As technology has changed, companies have been able to collect more personal data about consumers. But consumers may not know how their information is being used and shared. For example, social security numbers, zip codes, age, and purchase histories can be used to track online behavior. This has raised concerns about the privacy and accuracy of consumer data.
In today’s WatchBlog post, we look at our new snapshot of some of our work on consumer privacy gaps.
Data… One time. Going twice… Sold!
Businesses and other organizations, such as hospitals or colleges, collect data about individuals to create consumer ratings. Consumer ratings are used to analyze past behavior and predict future behavior. These ratings can be useful for businesses looking to target their ads or for individuals looking for relevant coupons. They can even be used in hospitals to prescribe prevention plans for patients at increased risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Key ways to use consumer points
But as we’ve reported, this data and ratings are often created, used and sold without the consumer’s knowledge.
And these scores can be harmful if based on inaccurate, outdated, or biased data that can lead to discrimination. For example, incorrect information can be used to determine whether a person suspected of a crime can be released on bail. It can affect their life and freedom.
Because of these concerns, we have asked Congress to consider protecting consumer points outside of existing federal laws. This may include giving the consumer access to review and correct incorrect data or to obtain information about the use of points and their potential consequences.
Not just a face in the crowd with facial recognition technology
Companies also collect visual data about consumers using facial recognition technology. This technology can make it easier to unlock a phone or help businesses identify thieves.
However, we have reported that companies’ use of facial recognition technology can also threaten consumers’ anonymity and violate their consent to the use of their image. And the technology is not without its drawbacks. It may falsely identify or profile individuals.
Because of these concerns, we asked Congress to consider strengthening the federal consumer privacy framework to reflect changes in technology and the marketplace.
On the Internet, protecting your privacy is paramount
Although online privacy issues and threats continue to grow and evolve, there is no comprehensive online privacy law in the US that governs how companies and other organizations collect, use, or sell personal data.
This leaves consumers with limited assurance that their privacy will be protected. We have already seen examples of data misuse. For example, in 2018, Facebook disclosed that a Cambridge University researcher may have improperly shared the data of 87 million users with a political consulting company.
As a result, we asked Congress to consider developing comprehensive online privacy legislation that would strengthen consumer protections and include controls that agencies must have.
Congress should consider comprehensive consumer privacy legislation
While we have made several recommendations to agencies and Congress about actions they could take to address privacy and technology issues, a comprehensive consumer privacy law is needed.
Learn more about our work on consumer privacy and technology by reading our new overview of the issue.