Data collection companies defend their role

Some of the country’s largest collectors of personal data are rejecting assertions from critics that they are data brokers, as members of Congress, including Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, seek to regulate the lucrative brokering industry.

Earlier this year, Markey and other lawmakers, under the auspices of a bipartisan congressional caucus on privacy, queried nine data-collecting companies, including the country’s largest credit reporting firms. The move was part of a fact-finding process that could lead to new consumer protection rules.


“The data brokers’ responses offer only a glimpse of the practices of an industry that has operated in the shadows for years,” said the lawmakers in a joint statement from the caucus, chaired by Markey and Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas.

“Many questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers. This and other practices could affect the lives of nearly all Americans, including children and teens,” the statement continued.

Get Political Happy Hour in your inbox:
Your afternoon shot of politics, sent straight from the desk of Joshua Miller.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

All but one of the companies rejected notions that they were data brokers, characterizing themselves as “data providers” or companies that merely “analyze” information.

One of the companies, Acxiom, did not specifically reject calling itself a data broker, and suggested that the lawmakers need to find the proper balance between privacy and commerce.

“We urge the caucus to gain a broader understanding of information use, including its very important benefits, not just the privacy implications,” said the company’s response.


Acxiom said it provides consumers the opportunity to check their files and seek corrections, if necessary. Of the 190 million people it has information on, only about 150 consumers have sought access to those records in the past two years, the company said.

The rise of the Internet, including social media sites such as Facebook, has allowed data brokers to create dossiers on individual Americans based on where they shop, what they buy, and what websites they visit.

“We want to work with the data broker industry so that it is more open about how it collects, uses, and sells Americans’ information,” the lawmakers said. “Until then, we will continue our efforts to learn more about this industry and will push for whatever steps are necessary to make sure Americans know how this industry operates.’’

Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at bobby.calvan@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.
We hope you've enjoyed your free articles.
Continue reading by subscribing to Globe.com for just 99¢.
 Already a member? Log in Home
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com