Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today called on twelve popular personal finance, health, and family-focused websites for their assistance in his ongoing investigation into the way data brokers collect and share a consumer’s personal information. Rockefeller is engaging the websites to ask whether they share consumer data with third parties, after learning that some data brokers may obtain data from websites that collect and pass on personal information they gather from surveys, sweepstakes, and questionnaires.
Rockefeller is calling on this sample of websites because they are among the most popular online sources of advice and information on health, family, and personal finance issues – and they may collect detailed or sensitive information about a consumer’s health or financial status.
“When consumers provide personal information in interactions with websites, they may not be aware that data they are sharing may be shared with data brokers,” wrote Rockefeller. “Consumers may also not be aware of how that information may be used once it has been shared with data brokers.”
In October 2012, Rockefeller launched an investigation into the data broker industry to give consumers a better understanding of how their personal information may be collected, shared, and used. Rockefeller is building on his investigation by engaging
these popular websites, whose privacy policies appear to leave room for sharing a consumer’s information with data brokers or other third parties.
Rockefeller has said from the beginning of the investigation that his goal is to help consumers understand how their personal information is collected and sold to marketers. He wants to give consumers the ability to make informed decisions while they are considering providing their information to a website that may be collecting information that is sold to a data broker.
In the letters, Rockefeller explains that, to date, several data brokers have refused to disclose to the Committee specific sources of consumer data, preventing the Committee from fully understanding how the industry operates. Rockefeller expects this latest effort will help to further illuminate how data brokers collect information.
Rockefeller notes in the letters that the investigation has revealed one way data brokers use information is to group consumers into categories such as “Rural and Barely Making It” or “Ethnic Second-City Strugglers,” and sell these bundles to marketers.
“While some consumers may not object to having their information categorized and used for marketing, before they share personal information it is important that they know it may be used for purposes beyond those for which they originally provided it. As seeking information online becomes more commonplace, growing numbers of consumers are voluntarily providing personal information about their lives to websites,” wrote Rockefeller.
The letters were sent to:
- Health.com (Time Inc.)
- Realage.com (Sharecare Inc.)
- Self.com (Conde Nast)
- Fool.com (The Motley Fool)
- Finance.youngmoney.com (Young Money LLC)
- Mensfitness.com (Galvanized Brands LLC)
- Investopedia.com (ValueClick Brands)
- Ehealthforum.com (Internet Brands)
SOURCE: Democratic Press Office
Related: Sept. 24 2013 sample letter (letter to Conde Nast Publications).