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    Network Neutrality, Protecting Privacy & placing limits on the power of the "old" &"new" media: Net Freedom

    Jeff Chester on the links between the Network Neutrality and Privacy Bill of Rights issue. Originally posted on Alternet.

    The Internet and our digital media are quietly becoming a pervasive and manipulative interactive surveillance system. Leading U.S. online companies, while claiming to be strong supporters of an open and democratic Internet, are working behind the scenes to ensure that they have unlimited and unchecked power to “shadow” each of us online. They have allied with global advertisers to transform the Internet into a medium whose true ambition is to track, influence and sell, in anever-ending cycle (link is external) [6], their products and political ideas. While Google, Facebook and other digital giants claim to strongly support a “democratic” Internet, their real goal is to use all the “screens” (link is external) [7]we use to empower a highly commercialized and corporatized digital media culture. Last Thursday was widely viewed as a victory for “Internet Freedom” and a blow to a “corporatized” Internet as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorsed a historic public utility framework for Network Neutrality (NN). It took the intervention of President Obama last year, who called (link is external) [8] for “the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality,” to dramatically transform the FCC’s plans. Its chairman, Thomas Wheeler, a former cable and telecom lobbyist, had previously been ambivalent about endorsing strong utility-like regulations. But feeling the pressure, especially from the president, he became a “born again” NN champion, leading the agency to endorse (link is external) [9] “strong, sustainable rules to protect the Open Internet.” But the next day, the Obama White House took another approach to Internet Freedom, handing the leading online companies, including Google, Facebook, and their Fortune-type advertising clients, a major political victory. The administration released its long-awaited “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights (link is external) [10]” legislation. The bill enables the most powerful corporations and their trade associations to greatly determine what American privacy rights will be. By giving further control over how data are gathered and used online, the administration basically ceded more clout to a corporate elite that will be able to effectively decide how the Internet and digital applications operate, today and in the near future. How do privacy rules impact the openness of the Internet, and the ability to promote and sustain progressive and alternative perspectives? While much of the public debate on pervasive data mining has focused on the role of the NSA and other intelligence agencies that were exposed by Edward Snowden, there has not been as much discussion on the impact of the commercial data system that is at the core of the Internet today. Google, Facebook, and others use our data as the basis of an ever-expanding global system of commercial surveillance. This information is gathered from our mobile devices, PCs, apps, social networks, and increasingly even TVs—and stored in digital profiles. These far-reaching dossiers—which can be accessed and updated in milliseconds—can include information on our race/ethnicity, financial status, health concerns, location, online behavior, what our children do, whom we communicate with on social media, and much more. The major online companies are continually expanding their commercial data gathering practices. They now merge and use our online and offline data (what we do online and information collected from store loyalty cards, etc.); track us across all the devices we use (PCs, mobile, etc.); and amass even more data about us supplied by a vast network of data broker (link is external) [11] alliances and partnerships (such asFacebook (link is external) [12] with its myriad of data partners, including Acxiom and Epsilon). A U.S. digital data industry “arms race,” with companies vying to own the most complete set of records on every consumer, has also led to a wave [13] of mergers and acquisitions, where companies that have already compiled huge datasets on Americans (and global consumers) being swallowed up by even larger ones. Leading corporations are investing vast sums to harvest and, in their own words, make “actionable” information we now generate nearly 24/7. So-called “Big Data” technologies enable companies to quickly analyze and take advantage of all this information, including understanding how each of us uses online media and mobile phones. A score of “Math Men and Women”-led advertising-technology companies have pioneered the use of super fast computers that track where we are online and, in milliseconds, crunch through lots of our data to decide whether to target us with advertising and marketing (regardless of whether we use a PC or mobile device and, increasingly, using our geolocation information). These machines are used to “auction” us off individually to the highest bidder, so we can be instantly delivered some form of marketing (or even political) message. Increasingly, the largest brands and ad agencies are using all this data and new tactics to sell us junk food, insurance, cars, and political candidates. For example, these anonymous machines can determine whether to offer us a high-interest pay day loan or a lower interest credit card; or an ad from one political group versus another. But it’s not just the ability to harvest data that’s the source of increased corporate clout on the Internet. Our profiles are tied to a system of micro-persuasion, the 21st century updating of traditional “Madison Avenue” advertising tactics that relied on “subliminal” and cultural influence. Today, online ads are constructed by connecting our information to a highly sophisticated digital marketing apparatus. At places like Google’s BrandLab (link is external) [14], AT&T’s Adworks (link is external) [15] Lab, or through research efforts such as Facebook IQ (link is external) [16], leading companies help their well-heeled clients take advantage of the latest insights from neuromarketing (link is external) [17] (to deliberately influence our emotions and subconscious), social media monitoring (link is external) [18], new forms of corporate product placement (link is external) [19], and the most effective ways to use all (link is external) [20] of our digital platforms. The online marketing industry is helping determine the dimensions of our digital world. Much of the Internet and our mobile communications are being purposely developed as a highly commercialized marketplace, where the revenues that help fund content go to a select, and largely ad-supported, few. With Google, Facebook, major advertisers and agencies all working closely together throughout the world to further commercialize our relationship to digital media, and given their ownership over the leading search engines, social networks, online video channels, and how “monetization” of content operates, these forces pose a serious obstacle to a more democratic and diverse online environment. One of the few barriers standing in the way of their digital dominance is the growing public concern (link is external) [21] about our commercial privacy. U.S. companies have largely bitterly opposed proposed privacy legislation—in the U.S. and also in the European Union (link is external) [22] (where data protection, as it is called, is considered a fundamental (link is external) [23] right). Effective regulations for privacy in the U.S. would restore our control of the information that has been collected about us, versus the system now in place that, for the most part, enables companies to freely use it. But under the proposed Obama plan, Google, Facebook and other data-gathering companies would be allowed to determine the rules. Through a scheme the White House calls a “multi-stakeholder” process, industry-dominated meetings—with consumer and privacy groups vastly outnumbered and out-resourced—would develop so-called self-regulatory “codes of conduct” to govern how the U.S. treats data collection and privacy. Codes would be developed to address, for example, how companies can track and use our location information; how they compile dossiers about us based on what we do at the local grocery store and read online; how health data can be collected and used from devices like Fitbit; and more. This process is designed to protect the bottom line of the data companies, which the Obama White House views as important to the economy and job growth. (Stealing other people’s data, in other words, is one of America’s most successful industries). Like similar self-regulatory efforts, stakeholder codes are really designed to sanction existing business practices and enable companies to continue to accumulate and use vast data assets unencumbered. The administration claims that such a stakeholder process can operate more effectively than legislation, operating quickly in “Internet time.” Dominated by industry (link is external) [24] as they are, stakeholder bodies are incapable of doing anything that would adversely impact their own future—which currently depends on the ability to gather and use all our data. The administration’s bill also strips away the power of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which now acts as the leading federal watchdog on privacy. Instead of empowering the FTC to develop national rules that enable individuals to make their own privacy decisions, the bill forces the agency to quickly review (in as little as 90 days) the proposed stakeholder codes—with little effective power to reject them. Companies become largely immune to FTC oversight and enforcement when they agree to abide by the self-regulatory policies their lobbyists basically wrote. In a rare rebuke to the administration, the FTC, (link is external) [25] leading Congressional Democrats (link is external) [26], and the majority of consumer and privacy [27] organizations rejected the White House’s privacy plan. But the administration does not appear to be willing, for now, to change its support for the data companies; and as we know, Silicon Valley and their business allies have strong support in Congress that will prevent any privacy law from passing for now. To see how the online lobby has different views on Internet Freedom, compare, for example the statements of the “Internet Association”—the lobbying trade organization that represents (link is external) [28] Google, Facebook, Amazon and dozens of other major online data-gathering companies—on last week’s two developments. It praised (link is external) [29] the FCC NN decision for creating “strong, enforceable net neutrality rules … banning paid prioritization, blocking, and discrimination online.” But the group rejected (link is external) [30] the Administration’s privacy proposal, as weak as it was, explaining that “today’s wide-ranging legislative proposal outlined by the Commerce Department casts a needlessly imprecise net.” At stake, as the Internet Association knows, is the ability of its members to expand their businesses throughout the world unencumbered. For example, high on the agenda for the Internet Association members (link is external) [31] are new U.S. brokered global trade deals, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which will free our digital giants from having to worry about strong privacy laws abroad. While the NN battle correctly viewed Comcast, Verizon, and other cable and phone giants as major opponents to a more democratic digital media environment, many of the online companies were seen as supporters and allies. But an “open” network free from control of our cable/telco monopolies is just one essential part for a more diverse and public interest-minded online system. Freedom must also prevent powerful interests from determining the very structure of communications in the digital age. Those companies that can collect and most effectively use our information are also gatekeepers and shapers of our Internet Future. The NN victory is only one key step for a public-interest agenda for digital media. We also must place limits on today’s digital media conglomerates, especially their ability to use all our data. The U.S is one of the only “developed” countries that still doesn’t (link is external) [32] have a national law protecting our privacy. For those concerned about the environment, we must also address how U.S. companies are using the Internet to encourage the global (link is external) [33] public to engage in a never-ending consumption spree that has consequences for sustainability and a more equitable future. There is ultimately an alignment of interests between the so-called “old” media of cable and the telephone industry with the “new” online media. They share similar values when it comes to ensuring the media they control brings eyeballs and our bank accounts to serve them and their advertising clients. While progressive and public interest voices today find the Internet accessible for organizing and promoting alternative views, to keep it so will require much more work. Jeffrey Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy ( [34]). Source URL: (link is external) Links: [1] (link is external) [2] (link is external) [3] (link is external) [4] (link is external) [5] (link is external) [6] (link is external) [7] (link is external) [8] (link is external) [9] (link is external) [10] (link is external) [11] (link is external) [12] (link is external) [13] [14] (link is external) [15] (link is external) [16] (link is external) [17] (link is external) [18] (link is external) [19] (link is external) [20] (link is external) [21] (link is external) [22] (link is external) [23] (link is external) [24] (link is external) [25] (link is external) [26] (link is external) [27] [28] (link is external) [29] (link is external) [30] (link is external) [31] (link is external) [32] (link is external) [33] (link is external) [34] [35] (link sends e-mail) on Under the Radar, Big Media Internet Giants Get Massive Access to Everything About You [36] (link is external) [37] (link is external)
  • Washington, DC: The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), along with U.S. PIRG, Consumer Watchdog, and Public Citizen, called on the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation into the impact on the American public of growing consolidation in consumer offline and online data sources and digital marketing applications. The groups also asked for the FTC to hold a public workshop focused on ensuring Americans receive 21st century safeguards protecting their privacy in online transactions, and a truly competitive marketplace.The letter comes after the approval by the Department of Justice of the “Big Data”-driven acquisition by the Oracle Corporation of data broker Datalogix. The merger—announced in late December and approved just three weeks later—would create, in Oracle’s words, “the world’s most valuable data cloud” for digital marketing, connecting and unifying “a consumer’s various identities across all devices, screens and channels.” The deal is the second recent major data broker acquisition by Oracle, which purchased leading online consumer information firm BlueKai last year. The Oracle/Datalogix transaction should have triggered involvement by the FTC, given its expertise on the digital data industry, the groups noted.The letter to FTC Chairwoman Ramirez also underscored that the Oracle/Datalogix merger raised serious privacy and consumer concerns, which required scrutiny by the Bureau of Consumer Protection as well. The combined companies’ datasets include financial, racial, location, and other sensitive data, as well as issues involving the EU/U.S. Safe Harbor agreement and the Google and Facebook Consent Decree settlements. The merger also implicates a number of consumer-protection matters, such as financial marketing and auto sales, where the FTC has a congressional mandate to protect the public.The group’s letter to the FTC (attached below) provides an inside look at the role of consumer data in today’s digital marketplace, in which companies not only amass enormous amounts of information on consumers’ online and offline activities, but exchange that information with partners and affiliates for the purposes of analytical scrutiny and personalized targeting. “This transaction,” the letter explains, “highlights the crosscutting dimensions of the contemporary ‘Big Data’ digital marketplace, where competition and consumer-protection issues are intertwined.”“The American public deserves to know how the consolidation and use of their information affects their daily lives,” the letter concludes, “from the prices they pay and the services they are offered to what this transaction means for their privacy. We urge the FTC to develop a more effective approach to identifying new problems and threats to competition and consumer protection in the Big Data era.”“The Oracle/Datalogix deal reflects the digital data ‘arms race’ underway where companies are amassing powerful and detailed sets of information to track and target a consumer anywhere, anytime,” explained Jeff Chester, CDD’s executive director. “Control over an individual’s information, and the capabilities to use it effectively in today’s Big Data era, are falling into fewer hands. Unfortunately, these critical mergers suffer from ‘premature approval syndrome,’ sanctioned by regulators without adequate analysis and discussion. As the country’s chief regulatory agency protecting privacy and the online consumer marketplace, the FTC needs to show greater leadership by fostering 21st Century safeguards.”“Our letter also urges antitrust authorities to update their market analysis to reflect that digital markets aren’t the same as markets for groceries or steel,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. PIRG. “21st century markets need a 21st century analysis that takes into account the unique ways that fewer, bigger firms leverage even greater market power over consumer data through partnerships and joint ventures.”“The Oracle/Datalogix deal is an example of how powerful companies are amassing unprecedented amounts of data, distorting traditional markets, limiting competition and consumer control,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The FTC needs to act quickly and decisively to ensure its regulatory procedures keep pace with the threats of 21st century data-driven markets.”“As evidenced now by Oracle’s acquisition of Datalogix, a handful of Data Titans hope to aggregate personal and private data about everyone, so they know where we go, what we do, whom we see, what we want, what we think and what we say,” said Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “The marketers’ intrusion on our privacy is vastly outpacing public protections, or even public awareness. Consumer protection authorities need to take a very hard look at the Oracle deal and industry concentration more generally. There’s no reason for us to be racing toward a dystopian future of total surveillance.”
  • Consumer, Children’s, and Privacy Groups Challenge Federal Trade Commission’s Proposed Settlement with TRUSTe (True Ultimate Standards Everywhere, Inc.) As Too Lenient Stronger Sanctions Needed for TRUSTe’s Violation of the Public Trust Consumers—Especially Parents—Materially Harmed by Years of Deception Washington, DC: The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), through its counsel the Institute for Public Representation and on behalf of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, and The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, filed comments today at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in response to that agency’s proposed Agreement and Consent Order with True Ultimate Standards Everywhere, Inc. (“TRUSTe”). In November, after conducting an investigation, the FTC filed a complaint against TRUSTe, a company that has been issuing various “privacy seals” since 1997. The display of such seals indicate that a website has been reviewed annually by TRUSTe to ensure it is compliance with TRUSTe’s program requirements designed to protect consumer privacy. In fact, according to the FTC TRUSTe deceived consumers in two important respects. First, TRUSTe failed in over one thousand instances between 2006 and 2013 to conduct the annual re-certifications that it told consumers and the FTC it was conducting. Second, the company failed to require the companies using its privacy seals to change references to TRUSTe’s nonprofit status after it became a for-profit operation in 2008. As CDD’s filing makes clear, these violations are especially significant coming from a company that is entrusted with verifying the self-regulatory privacy-protection efforts of thousands of companies—including some of the biggest in the world—and covering such important areas of concern as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and the EU-US Safe Harbor framework for transatlantic data transfers. Thus while the filing applauds the FTC’s enforcement action against TRUSTe, it finds the proposed sanctions—a $200,000 fine and additional recordkeeping and reporting requirements concerning the COPPA safe harbor program—to be far too lenient. “Safe harbors such as TRUSTe,” the filing points out, “play a pivotal role protecting children’s privacy by prohibiting the collection, use or disclosure of personal information without meaningful notice to parents and advance, verifiable parental consent, limiting the amount of data collected from children and protecting the security of data that is collected.” Unfortunately, because the FTC neither revealed the websites and services that were not properly re-certified, nor estimated the number of consumers who were affected by these violations, consumers—including parents concerned for their children’s privacy—are left wondering just how much meaningful privacy protection they have online. In addition to calling for a significant increase in the size of TRUSTe’s payment (citing individual companies that have paid as much as $1 million for their COPPA violations in the past), CDD’s filing called for all COPPA safe harbor reports (including those filed by TRUSTe) be made available to the public on the FTC’s website in a timely manner. Angela Campbell, co-director of the Institute for Public Representation, emphasized that “Parents rely on seal programs such as TRUSTe when deciding whether a particular website is appropriate for their children. Misrepresentations such as these have the potential to put millions of children at risk across potentially hundreds or thousands of child-directed websites. The FTC must do more to restore public trust in the COPPA safe harbor programs.” “The commission needs to stand up for children and their parents,” explained Jeff Chester, executive director of CDD. “If the FTC had adequately engaged in oversight of these programs, such problems would have been identified earlier,” he noted. “Those companies such as TRUSTe that have pledged to truly protect the privacy of American children should be required to make public how they actually determine whether online companies targeting kids engage in fair and responsible practices.” A copy of CDD’s FTC filing is available at --30--
  • On 3 December 2014 a coalition of privacy and consumer groups sent a Joint Submission to APEC asking for significant changes to the APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules system (CBPRs). The submission is available here. (link is external) This joint submission follows a long period of opposition by civil society representatives to the first implementation of the CBPRs, which has now been operating in the US for 18 months. The submission raises concerns at the growing number of false claims of APEC certification and the absence of an official accurate list of members. One key aspect of the submission is that the signatories oppose the appointment of TRUSTe (link is external) as an Accreditation Agent for the CBPRs in the US, citing weaknesses in their program criteria, conflicts of interest, and the unacceptable use of fine print exclusions in TRUSTe certified privacy policies. The group calls on APEC to reform its CBPRs or close it down. The coalition includes: the Australian Privacy Foundation; the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic; the US Center for Digital Democracy; and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
  • U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) respectfully submit these additional comments to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). A set of regulatory and other safeguards is urgently required to ensure that contemporary “Big Data”-driven financial services are used in an equitable, transparent, and responsible manner. All Americans, especially those who confront daily challenges to their economic security, should be assured that their lives will be enhanced—not undermined—by the new digital-data financial services marketplace. A closer critical examination of the commercial information infrastructure in the U.S. reveals a set of well-developed and interconnected data collection and use practices that few consumers are aware of—let alone have consented to. While the commission’s September 2014 workshop explored some of the key issues, it did not sufficiently examine the implications of current “Big Data” business practices. U.S. PIRG Education Fund and CDD urge the commission to issue a final report that addresses the issues we identify [see attached file].
  • Today was the deadline (link is external) for Comments to be filed in the President's Big Data and privacy proceeding. CDD filed the attached comments, and also joined with a NGO coalition on thie issue representing the civil rights, consumer and privacy communities. CDD's filing urged the following:The Obama Administration should offer legislation that ensures its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights framework actually provides individuals with the control over how their personal information is collected and used. Individuals should have the ability to make meaningful decisions about their information, regardless of whether it is collected by a social network, mobile operator, app network, financial institution, etc.Legislation should provide regulatory rulemaking authority to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on consumer privacy issues to develop these new rights. Legislation should require the FTC to conduct the necessary proceedings leading to a rulemaking within one year from the enactment of legislation. The same legislation should also call on agencies that currently have rulemaking authority, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to immediately initiate proceedings on consumer financial, telecommunications, and digital health privacy, respectively. Other agencies with sectorial authority on privacy issues not covered by the FTC and others should also be mandated to develop regulations.The current “multistakeholder” process convened by the NTIA should be replaced by the relevant agency rulemakings. The legislation should acknowledge the threats that much of Big Data-related collection pose to Americans today, and strongly state that it is in the best interests of the nation that businesses refrain from their current practice of ubiquitous data collection and profiling. It should accept that self-regulation has failed.The FTC, CFPB, FCC, and FDA should be mandated to report to the Nation, within six months after legislation is enacted, on how commercial Big Data practices are currently being used in ways that may be harmful to the public and not in the national interest. These reports should identify how current practices can discriminate against Americans, based on their race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, income status, age, residence, and other key variables.Based on these reports, the agencies will propose special regulatory safeguards as required to address sensitive data concerns.
  • The Federal Trade Commission has issued a powerful and disturbing privacy wake-up call. The report reveals the largely invisible Big Data-driven complex that regularly spies on every American, comprehensively following our activities both online and off. It delivers a critical “black eye” to the data-broker industry, which has cynically expanded its surveillance on Americans without regard to their privacy. Unlike the White House’s Big Data reports issued earlier this month, the FTC study provides a much more realistic—and chilling—analysis of an out-of-control digital data collection industry. However, the commission’s calls for greater transparency and consumer control are insufficient. The real problem is that data brokers—including Google and Facebook—have embraced a business model designed to collect and use everything about us and our friends—24/7. Legislation is required to help stem the tide of business practices purposefully designed to make a mockery of the idea of privacy for Americans.******Here are the key findings from the FTC report that illustrate how the data industry requires major reform:VIII. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS This report reflects the information provided in response to the Orders issued to nine data brokers, information gathered through follow-up communications and interviews, and information gathered through publicly available sources. Based primarily on these materials about a cross-section of data brokers, the Commission makes the following findings and recommendations: A. Findings 1. Characteristics of the Industry ⊲⊲ Data Brokers Collect Consumer Data from Numerous Sources, Largely Without Consumers’ Knowledge: Data brokers collect data from commercial, government, and other publicly available sources. Data collected could include bankruptcy information, voting registration, consumer purchase data, web browsing activities, warranty registrations, and other details of consumers’ everyday interactions. Data brokers do not obtain this data directly from consumers, and consumers are thus largely unaware that data brokers are collecting and using this information. While each data broker source may provide only a few data elements about a consumer’s activities, data brokers can put all of these data elements together to form a more detailed composite of the consumer’s life. ⊲⊲ The Data Broker Industry is Complex, with Multiple Layers of Data Brokers Providing Data to Each Other: Data brokers provide data not only to end-users, but also to other data brokers. The nine data brokers studied obtain most of their data from other data brokers rather than directly from an original source. Some of those data brokers may in turn have obtained the information from other data brokers. Seven of the nine data brokers in the Commission’s study provide data to each other. Accordingly, it would be virtually impossible for a consumer to determine how a data broker obtained his or her data; the consumer would have to retrace the path of data through a series of data brokers. ⊲⊲ Data Brokers Collect and Store Billions of Data Elements Covering Nearly Every U.S. Consumer: Data brokers collect and store a vast amount of data on almost every U.S. household and commercial transaction. Of the nine data brokers, one data broker’s database has information on 1.4 billion consumer transactions and over 700 billion aggregated data elements; another data broker’s database covers one trillion dollars in consumer transactions; and yet another data broker adds three billion new records each month to its databases. Most importantly, data brokers hold a vast array of information on individual consumers. For example, one of the nine data brokers has 3000 data segments for nearly every U.S. consumer. ⊲⊲ Data Brokers Combine and Analyze Data About Consumers to Make Inferences About Them, Including Potentially Sensitive Inferences: Data brokers infer consumer interests from the data that they collect. They use those interests, along with other information, to place consumers in categories. Some categories may seem innocuous such as “Dog Owner,” “Winter Activity Enthusiast,” or “Mail Order Responder.” Potentially sensitive categories include those that primarily focus on ethnicity and income levels, such as “Urban Scramble” and “Mobile Mixers,” both of which include a high concentration of Latinos and African Americans with low incomes. Other potentially sensitive categories highlight a consumer’s age such as “Rural Everlasting,” which includes single men and women over the age of 66 with “low educational attainment and low net worths,” while “Married Sophisticates” includes thirty-something couples in the “upper-middle class . . . with no children.” Yet other potentially sensitive categories highlight certain health-related topics or conditions, such as “Expectant Parent,” “Diabetes Interest,” and “Cholesterol Focus.” ⊲⊲ Data Brokers Combine Online and Offline Data to Market to Consumers Online: Data brokers rely on websites with registration features and cookies to find consumers online and target Internet advertisements to them based on their offline activities. Once a data broker locates a consumer online and places a cookie on the consumer’s browser, the data broker’s client can advertise to that consumer across the Internet for as long as the cookie stays on the consumer’s browser. Consumers may not be aware that data brokers are providing companies with products to allow them to advertise to consumers online based on their offline activities. Some data brokers are using similar technology to serve targeted advertisements to consumers on mobile devices.
  • Twenty-eight consumer, child advocacy and public health groups submitted this letter today to President Obama's review on "Big Data" team. Among the groups signing the letter included the African American Colloboraative Obesity Research Network, American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Consumers Union, Children Now, Common Sense Media, CFA, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Momsrising, National Consumers League, Praxis Project and Salud America! "A broad coalition of child, public health and consumer advocacy groups have come together to send a strong message that children and adolescents need serious protections in this age of Big Data, " explained CDD's associate director Joy Spencer. "The White House should adopt recommendations that ensure that this vulnerable group is protected from Big Data practices that undermine their health, well being and privacy."
  • Today is the deadline for Comments to be filed for the White House's forthcoming report on "Big Data." NGOs pressed the Administration to include public comments during its 90-day inquiry that is led by Senior WH Counselor John Podesta. Our comments are attached. Here's an excerpt: The inability to implement basic privacy rules in the United States to address Internet data collection practices has resulted in the ubiquitous commercial surveillance landscape that today threatens the privacy of Americans—as well as those in the European Union and other countries where U.S. companies collect and transport their information...CDD believes the Big Data report must address the realties of today’s commercial data gathering and analysis landscape. While we acknowledge the many positive uses of Big Data, and its potential, the Administration should not gloss over the threats as well. We fear that missing for the most part in the White House’s review will be a fact-based assessment of actual commercial data practices conducted by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, data brokers, and many others. Such a review would reveal an out-of-control commercial data collection apparatus, with no restraints, and which is leading to a commercial surveillance complex that should be antithetical in a democratic society. The report should show the consequences of such information gathering on Americans, where the data can be immediately made “actionable.” It should address the consequences when predictive analysis and other “insight” identification applications trigger real-time and future decisions about the products and services we are offered, the content we may receive, and even the online “experiences” with which we interact. The report should make clear how its Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Principles should be interpreted when data collected from Americans are used to unfairly target them—and their families—for products and services that can be harmful to their well-being (such as the delivery of high-interest payday loans, promotion of questionable medical treatments, and the targeting of junk food ads to children, which contributes to the nation’s obesity epidemic). The filing covers 6 key issues: The Growth of Ubiquitous Cross-Platform and Across-Application Tracking of Individuals Online: The Emergence of Big-Data-derived Comprehensive Data Profiles on Individuals (Data Management Platforms): The Digital Data Collection Apparatus, Including the Use of Multiple Data Sources and the Real-time Buying and Selling of American Internet Users: The Growth of Commercial Digital Surveillance at the Community, Hyper-local Level: The Delivery of Financial, Health, and Other Products Linked to Sensitive Data and Uses that Raise Consumer Protection Concerns: The Failure of Industry Self-regulation and the Limits of the Multi-stakeholder Process:
  • Today, CDD filed Comments (link is external) in the FTC's forthcoming (link is external)"Mobile Device Tracking" workshop (link is external) (Feb. 19) on mobile and retail tracking. As we explain (excerpt): While it is important to examine the individual components of what is an increasingly pervasive and unregulated source of commercial surveillance in the “Big Data” era, such as in-store tracking of consumers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) must place this one use of mobile tracking in a larger context. Such tracking is but one part of a more elaborate and increasingly seamless “always-on” collection apparatus that operates across devices and user experiences. This surveillance is invisible to most consumers and connected to a range of other practices such as “hyper-local” targeting, multi-screen tracking, and data broker-driven offline and online “connected recognition” and data on-boarding services. Current self-regulatory approaches are ineffective and do a disservice to consumers by falsely claiming to provide privacy protection and user control. The FTC should issue a set of recommendations to govern cross-platform marketing that includes mobile devices. This is urgently required as intrusive geo-locational data-gathering practices, some of which raise concerns about the potential for new forms of “digital redlining” and other discriminatory practices, dramatically expand during the next few years. We believe it is especially important for the FTC to examine how geo-location tracking is being used to identify people by race, ethnicity, economic class, and by their age (such as young people and seniors). The FTC should also reiterate its call for Congress to enact meaningful omnibus privacy legislation.... Today, consumer profiles are developed that include so-called first-, second-, and third-party data, linking our online and offline selves. This filing will not address the purposeful and disingenuous claim that such data profiles of individuals are “anonymous.” It is not the case, and the commission should reject such absurd claims. Companies say much of what they now do is “privacy compliant,” hiding behind the falsehood that cookies and all the other ways they collect and analyze data aren’t linked to an actual person. Such distortions should not be tolerated. Real people are being tracked and targeted.... The growth of hyper-local targeting is spurring new forms of segmentation of individuals and their distinct communities. The country is being broken up into highly discrete areas that are mapped to identify unique characteristics—beyond actual location. The use of these so-called “tiles” raises profound concerns. For example, PlaceIQ explains that “What we do is map data from multiple sources onto a grid of tiles that cover every square foot of the US. Each tile is 100 meters by 100 meters, and we inject third-party demographic information about that area into the tile, as well as data on what’s physically located there—points of interest like parks and airports, tourist attractions, retailers, stadiums, and so forth. Then, we connect that data with where a mobile device is in real time, or where it has recently been, to build unique audience segments for brands to target.”... The use of geo-fencing, “geobehavioral targeting,” “geo-cookies” and the role of location analytics, especially when integrated into broader data gathering, requires action by the FTC. As we will document for the forthcoming “Alternative Scoring Products” workshop, geo-location data are being made actionable at real-time events as well as used to make a range of critical decisions about an individual (whether they are credit worthy, seeking some product or service linked to sensitive concerns, etc.). These privacy and consumer-protection concerns extend beyond the individual to their communities and neighborhoods as well. The commission should examine the impact location-driven data gathering has on the financial health and consumer well-being of distinct communities, especially those in which its residents may suffer economically or due to other factors (such as age). CDD will soon be filing on Alternative Scoring Products (e-scores, lifetime value predictaors, etc) for the FTC's March 19th workshop. Today's Comments are attached.