The FTC Wants to Save You From Data Brokers That Sell Your Secrets

Data brokers the world over collect and sell information about your online behavior. Now, though, the FTC has plans to try and save you from their data-grabbing ways.

An FTC report issued Tuesday explains how the Commission wants Congress to examine the data broking industry and consider regulating its collection practices. Currently, brokers are free to create profiles about you based on scraps of information that you share online—from activity on social media sites to online warranty registrations. Individually they seem innocuous, but rolled together and combined with other publicly available information, they're a powerful—and lucrative—insight into your life.

The FTC gives an example of how such data broking is a double-edged sword. Say the data identifies you as a biker: companies buying your information may send you offers and discounts on a new motorcycle; but equally a life insurance company may charge you a higher premium for risky behavior. Because data broking isn't regulated, it could currently swing either way—for any of us, over any information that's gathered.

The FTC, then, is urging Congress to pass control of the situation to the individual, requiring brokers to alert people to the fact they're about to pass on your information to third parties—and give you the option to opt out, or edit incorrect information. It also suggests that data brokers must be more accountable—identifying themselves and the data they collect, and describing the methods they use to acquire it.

All of which sounds eminently sensible. Let's just hope Congress actually listens to the advice. [FTC via Re/code]

Image by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.