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White House report on Big Data and Privacy and its Discrimination Concerns


A review ordered by the Obama administration on big data and privacy, due this week, is expected to include warnings about data dealing’s potential for abuse and discrimination, in issues from housing to hiring.

The report was assigned in January to White House counselor John Podesta in the blowback over government surveillance and NSA data collection practices.

Podesta wouldn’t reveal details of his report to President Obama in yesterday’s preliminary interview with the Associated Press, though Podesta told AP he had newfound “concern” over how big data “could be used to target consumers and lead to discriminatory practices.”

But it may be too little, too late for millions of powerless consumers up against nonconsensual collection, use and sale of their personal information by online profiteers for decades.

As a current lawsuit illustrates, so-called “people search” website Spokeo’s data has been used for the very purposes Mr. Podesta suggests might be a “concern.” A Virginia resident is suing Spokeo alleging that the company’s collection and for-profit peddling of erroneous personal information has harmed his attempt to find a job.

In 2011, an Associated Press investigation concluded that U.S. employers spend at least $2 billion a year on data dealers to check out their scraped, notoriously flawed profiles on potential employees.

Federal laws haven’t caught up with the human data sales market, and the massive privacy and profiling problems it has created.

The White House is either late to the game — or, as with exploit sales, a system with opportunistic holes hasn’t been such a bad thing for defense.

Stalking victims, civil and privacy rights groups, targeted segments of the population, and even the Federal Trade Commission have been fighting sellers like Spokeo — and losing the battle — for years.

The FTC recently settled two cases with data brokers Checkmate and InfoTrack for selling consumer data to prospective employers and landlords in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In June 2012, Spokeo paid $800,000 to settle an FTC suit that alleged Spokeo illegally sold personal information.

Some privacy activists suggest we make public records less “public,” the way they were pre-Internet.

Others think that data dealers should be subjected to increased regulation, organization, oversight and accuracy checking.

These websites have typically inaccurate data about individuals and maintain public disclaimers against ensuring accuracy, in their self-immunization strategy stating that the Fair Credit Reporting Act doesn’t apply to them.

These data dealers collect public information from social media websites, public records, advertising networks (ad trackers), as well as from companies and apps that sell, rent or trade “third party” data.

The difficulty in keeping personal information and events out of the hands of big data dealers can be seen in the lengths one woman just went through trying to hide her pregnancy from Facebook, Google and other online big data collectors.

Source: Associated Press



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