Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Koop it Up

brill In the spirit of C. Everett Koop, Joycelyn Elders, and Diane Ravitch, it appears we have our latest heretical honest public servant mistakenly-appointed high government agency administrator. This time, it’s Julie Brill, pictured at left, head of the Federal Trade Commission. Per Advertising Age:

Big data brokers are “taking advantage of us without our permission.” Those were the words of Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill this morning at the Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference in Washington.

The commissioner, often vocal on data-privacy issues, called on Congress to legislate what she calls a “Reclaim Your Name” program, one that would establish technical controls allowing people to access the information data collectors have stored about them, control how it is shared and correct it when necessary.

As always, the reaction was immediate:

The Direct Marketing Association was caught off guard by Commissioner Brill’s announcement. “DMA has been in discussion with Commissioner Brill regarding ways to increase transparency in the ‘data broker’ industry, but was surprised to see her announcement of this new initiative,” said Rachel Thomas, VP of government affairs at DMA. “The FTC’s Section 6B inquiry into ‘data brokers’ is still ongoing, and the Commission has yet to articulate a specific problem that would justify a call for congressional action in this area,” she continued in an emailed statement.

The fun continued, too, as Brill dared tell the obvious truth about another aspect of corporate marketing-spying:

Ms. Brill indicated that the FTC believes mobile device IDs are personally-identifiable…. “Information linked to specific devices is, for all intents and purposes, linked to individuals,” she said.

The FTC is calling on data companies and users of consumer data “to commit to a robust program to de-identify their information,” she said, arguing that predictive analytics have rendered much of the consumer information collected as forever linked to individuals, no matter industry’s claims that the information often is anonymized or aggregated.

Companies should “take both technical and behavioral steps to make sure information used in advertising is truly and completely de-identified.” Ms. Brill didn’t make distinctions between data collected and used by first-parties and third-parties.

Countless retailers and consulting firms that provide data services to them — such as Acxiom, Merkle and many others — handle terabytes of personally-identifiable consumer data on a regular basis.

Ms. Brill’s comments come amid revelations that the National Security Administration has gleaned consumer phone call and Internet data from corporations including Verizon, Google and Facebook. Indeed, corporate data-harvesting practices for logistics and marketing purposes have facilitated the controversial NSA data grab.

Companies collecting or employing data should make a public commitment not to re-identify information, and should contractually require their partners to make the same commitments, continued the commissioner.

How can you tell when you have the overclass dead-to-rights? That’s when they have nothing left to say but plain denial. According to Ad Age:

Many of the companies using device IDs to track in-store shopping behavior and other location-based interactions hold that they are not.

“Many” here means “all,” of course…

One wonders: How long til Zerobama cans Brill?

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Posted by Michael Dawson | Filed in Lifelines, Privacy


4 Responses to “Koop it Up”

  1. June 26th, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Heavy Armor said:

    The correct answer is “Yesterday.”

  2. June 26th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Marla Singer said:

    Oh, damn her… Just when I comfortably settle in cynicism and passivity, some reasonably principled person has to come along and ruin it all for me.

    Although it is probably not that difficult to make such statements knowing that it is completely futile and you don’t care much about climbing higher – Big Data is not that useful for marketing without the ability to identify specific targets. Otherwise how else are they going to send you precisely tailored coupons based on your purchase?

    (This just happened to me recently: I had dinner at a local chain restaurant for the first time ever (both the specific location, and the specific chain). A few days later, what do I find in the mailbox? A coupon for the same chain. There is no other way for them to get the address if they did not link the credit card transaction with specific identifying information. Obviously, I did not provide anything beyond handing out my card…)

    From now on, I’m adding cash only to the list of self-inflicted inconveniences in the name of meek protest

  3. June 26th, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Marla Singer said:

    PS And keep in mind that this was a pretty obscure chain, i.e. random coincidence can be reasonably ruled out, which it could be if it was McDonalds, Chili’s etc…

  4. June 26th, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Michael Dawson said:

    Yes, exactly, Marla. I suspect the denial of identifiability has always been a plain lie. But it’s the “private” sector, so they get to do whatever they want, without scandal.



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