Our cellphones track us. Websites track us. Cameras track us. And the law hasn’t kept up with preserving privacy.
It’s something that troubles Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. She’s been thinking about how the law may need to change.
When she spoke to us recently, she mentioned data brokers. Those are companies that build profiles of consumers and sell the information.
What do they know? Where does it come from? Who buys and sells it? How can it be used? Should it be left to data brokers to enforce themselves or should the government step in? What can consumers do?
She told us about one company that has been held up as a model — by itself at least — for how consumers can better understand what’s going on and opt out. It’s Acxiom, a giant in the data broker industry.
We checked it out. The company has a website called aboutthedata.com. You should know before you try it that to get access to data about you, Acxiom asks you to submit data about you. You may only be reinforcing what they know and enhancing their product in an effort to figure out what’s going on.
We went in anyway and found what the company said it knew about members of the editorial board was in many cases wildly inaccurate. What it attempted to get right was far-reaching. Birthdate, race, political party, credit card activity, interests, home ownership, type of car, and much more all linked together. It’s not clear if what the company shows it “knows” is the full extent of the information it has. And it doesn’t clearly identify where your data was obtained or to whom it was sold.
Acxiom does have an admirable feature. There are places on the website where a consumer can march through several steps to opt out of Acxiom’s data collection. That’s nice. It’s hard to know, though, what it will mean. That’s just one data broker.
We’ve heard a number of thoughtful politicians talk about protecting the privacy of Oregonians. The Legislature has picked off a few of the issues, such as drones and traffic cameras, and proposed changes. That’s better than nothing. But without a more systematic approach, the law will never catch up to the new ways the privacy of Oregonians is bought and sold.