Senate Dems drop ‘data broker’ bill

Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill Wednesday that would rein in the companies that silently track and label consumers for marketing purposes.

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The bill — Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act — would prohibit these companies from using deceptive means to collect information about consumers. The bill would also require that the “data broker” companies make available the information it has about each consumer so that consumers can correct the data or opt-out of having their data collected.

Under the bill, the Federal Trade Commission would be able to enforce the law impose civil penalties on companies that violate it.

Late last year, Rockefeller — chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee — released a report warning about the harms of data brokers and encouraging oversight from lawmakers.

“This booming shadow industry, that generated more than $150 billion in 2012 and operates with very little scrutiny and oversight, is making tremendous profits off practices that can be disturbing and totally unfair to consumers,” Rockefeller said in a statement announcing his bill, calling his bill “a strong step” in the direction of consumer protection.

The FTC has long discussed the need for transparency in the data broker industry. Commissioner Julie Brill has called on the industry to give consumers the ability to view and correct the information that data brokers have about them.

In a statement, Brill applauded the data broker legislation. "This bill will allow us to begin the next phase of the very important conversation about giving consumers control over the profiles — often rich in sensitive information — that data brokers collect about them," she said.

The agency is currently preparing a report on the industry, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.