House members wary of consumer privacy issues with Groupon

Online discounter Groupon has offered Congress assurances that it is constantly working to ensure the privacy of information it collects about its users. 

Key members of the House, however, are not fully convinced Groupon is careful with the consumer information it collects. 

Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who co-chair the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, wrote a letter to Groupon in July that asked several questions about how the company collects and uses consumer information, and how much control consumers have in this process.

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In an Aug. 10 reply that Barton and Markey released this week, Groupon outlined several steps it's taking to ensure this information is not abused.

"[W]e know that our customers care about privacy, and we are committed to explaining our data practices and keeping our explanations current in an environment of rapid technology changes," Groupon General Counsel David Schellhase wrote. "We are also committed to empowering our customers to make choices about the type of information they give us and how we use that information to interact with them."

While they did not threaten legislation or any other immediate steps, Barton and Markey did not appear convinced that Groupon has its data privacy issues fully under control.

"Because it is growing at such a fast pace, I fear for the potential misuse of consumers' personal information as more partnerships are created," Barton said Wednesday.

"I have learned that Groupon desires to deliver offers that are convenient, affordable, and relevant," Barton added. "In an effort to make this a reality, they should never let convenience compromise the integrity of the company."

Markey said it is "appropriate" that Groupon uses a system allowing customers to opt in to a system that lets the company track where customers are, in the hopes of offering them local deals. But like Barton, Markey added that further monitoring of Groupon's practices will be necessary.

"As Groupon continues to evolve, it will be critical that it does not place a discount on privacy," Markey said. "Transparent, easily understandable privacy policies and practices are key here, and I will continue to monitor this rapidly developing area of the industry."