The data collection business is growing faster than anyone imagined. Some members of Congress think, for the companies that collect, store, and sell all the micro-bits of our personal information, there’s a wild-west scenario brewing, and our privacy is at the center of it all. And when Congress gets a whiff a scenario, you know what comes next: A STRONGLY WORDED LETTER.
That’s exactly what was sent out by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Joe Barton (R-Tex), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). The New York Times cites the nine companies the letter went out to:
The letter’s recipients included marketing services firms like Acxiom and Epsilon; consumer reporting agencies like Experian and Equifax, which have separate credit reporting and consumer analytics divisions; Fair Isaac, now known as FICO, the credit scoring services company; and Intelius, a company that offers reverse phone look-up and background check services. The letter gave the companies three weeks to respond.
Not only was this letter strongly worded, it was longly worded too. Four pages of muscle-bound words and questions about how the privacy of U.S. citizens might be at risk. One of the main concerns is that these companies are going beyond the typical “name, address, and birthday” information that most of us commonly associate with data collection. Minutia about weight, shopping habits, health worries, and vacations are also being rounded up. Representatives worry that these bits of information could cause people that don’t fit the mold off to the wayside. The letter states:
This practice may have long-term impacts on access to education, health care, employment, and other economic opportunities. Some have termed this practice “Weblining”, analogous to the illegal practice of “Redlining” in the physical world.