Consumers Urged To Reclaim Their Name By FTC's Julie Brill
June 27, 2013

FTC Regulator Wants Consumers To ‘Reclaim Your Name’ From Data Collectors

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

As the privacy rights of Americans have come under the spotlight in recent weeks, one federal regulator is pushing for a new initiative that would give consumers the ability to reclaim control of their personal data from brokers, Web sites, and other entities.

Commissioner Julie Brill, a long-time privacy advocate, said on Wednesday her 'Reclaim Your Name' initiative would give consumers access to the knowledge and technology tools to reassert control over their personal data held by companies.

Consumers, rather than businesses, should be "the ones to decide how much to share, with whom and for what purpose," said Brill during a keynote address at the Computers, Freedom & Privacy Conference in Washington, DC.

The initiative would let consumers learn how data brokers and other firms are gathering and using their personal data, give them access to the information collected, and allow them to opt out of collection for marketing purposes, Brill said.

It would also help consumers navigate the potential down sides of collection of their information in the name of big data analytics, she said.

Brill referred to the timeliness of the topic, given recent revelations about the NSAs surveillance program, under which the spy agency collects metadata from calls and emails sent and received by US citizens.

"The topic is timely. This month, Edward Snowden, a former employee of a national security contractor, gave the world a crash course in just how much privacy we can expect if we participate at all in an increasingly online and mobile marketplace. He leaked details of some of the National Security Administration's data collection efforts, one program that collects telephone metadata from US telephone companies and another that monitors international Internet and email traffic," Brill said.

"Americans are now more aware than ever of how much their personal data is free-floating in cyberspace, ripe for any data miner, government or otherwise, to collect, use, package and sell."

In some cases, big data collectors are taking advantage of people without permission, Brill said.

"Often without consent or warning, and sometimes in completely surprising ways, big data analysts are tracking our every click and purchase, examining them to determine exactly who we are, establishing our name, good or otherwise, and retaining the information in dossiers that we know nothing about, much less consent to."

The answer to this is for consumers to have access to more information about what data is collected, Brill said.

"Many consumers have been loath to examine too closely the price we pay, in terms of forfeiting control of our personal data, for all the convenience, communication, and fun of a free-ranging and mostly free cyberspace."

"With ... knowledge comes power; the power to review, this time with eyes wide open, what privacy means, or should mean, in the age of the Internet."

Under the 'Reclaim Your Name' initiative, participating companies would agree to customize their data handling and data choice tools to the sensitivity of the personal data they collect, Brill explained.

Companies that handle sensitive data would provide greater transparency and would better inform consumers of their choices.

Brill also urged US credit-reporting agencies to develop better tools to help consumers understand and rectify their credit reports.

"There are simply too many errors in traditional credit reports," she said.

'Reclaim Your Name' would complement the FTCs recent push for an online do-not-track system, Brill said.

That mechanism allows consumers to choose when their data is collected for marketing purchases, while 'Reclaim Your Name' would give consumers access to online and offline data already gathered and give them some choice about how that information is used, Brill said.

"Together, these policies will restore consumers' rights to privacy that big data has not just challenged but has abrogated in too many instances."

Without providing any specific timelines, Brill said she would be working on the 'Reclaim Your Name' initiative in the coming months.

"I will continue to work on the contours of Reclaim Your Name over the next several months. I look forward to discussing the elements of this initiative with industry, consumer groups, and other stakeholders."