Would Consumers Be Safer With a National Data Broker Registry?

“A comprehensive national privacy law cannot be developed overnight…” argues the chief “data ethics officer” for Acxiom, a database marketing company, in a New York Times op-ed: Still, people deserve to know who is collecting data about them, why it’s being collected and the types of companies with which the data is being shared. They should also have assurances that companies collecting data have adequate measures in place to ensure security and confidentiality. That’s why, until we have a national privacy law, we should pursue a national data broker registry to help consumers discover this information — and learn the difference between good data actors and bad ones.

People who today use Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple understand that these companies collect their data in an effort to improve their experience and to generate revenue by selling advertising. But there is less awareness of companies — generally referred to as data brokers — that collect, source and otherwise license information about consumers who are not their customers. The growing commercial use of data is outpacing the public’s understanding….

Data-driven marketing helps businesses reduce wasteful ad spending and helps fund free or low-cost consumer products and services on the internet, including free search, email and social media platforms, as well as customized content. In many cases, it also funds the press and other channels of expression. Our business is underpinned by policies on comprehensive data governance, in an effort to ensure that data use is transparent, fair and just, that there are benefits for both businesses and consumers. We help marketers follow the golden rule of business — “Know Your Customer” — so that they can deliver a better experience. Unfortunately, the irresponsible actions of some individuals and organizations have cast a shadow over our industry. They violate consumers’ privacy, profit from stolen data and commit fraud.

Increasing transparency — initially through a data broker registry and ultimately through a robust and balanced national privacy law — would help reduce the conflation of legitimate, regulated entities with unethical companies and criminals.