Comments by Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Presented to President-Elect Obama’s Transition Team:
The Honorable Susan Ness, Professor Peter Swire, Professor Philip Weiser
as part of their meeting with privacy and consumer advocates
December 16, 2008
There are dozens of information brokers in the marketplace today that make information about individuals widely available, often with no questions asked, some of them at no charge and others for a fee.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has received many complaints about such companies over the years. We have also provided a resource on our web site, enabling individuals to locate the myriad of such companies and providing information on how to opt-out for those companies that offer an opt-out opportunity. You can find these resources on our site here: www.privacyrights.org/ar/infobrokers.htm
A common complaint we receive is that an individual has contacted the company with a request to opt-out, but that the company has not complied. Many such individuals have made several such requests of a single company, only to be repeatedly ignored.
Another complaint is that such companies even exist. Information brokers typically have no direct relationship with their data subjects. Yet, they can compile and sell such personal information without individuals’ consent. Our web site explains that information brokers obtain most of the information that they sell or otherwise provide from public records and other publicly available sources.
Many individuals have taken extraordinary steps to keep their personal information private. They are puzzled when their efforts are for naught. We were recently contacted by an individual who has successfully kept her home address off such data broker web sites for many years. Through her own extensive research, she is well-informed about the data broker industry. Despite her efforts, she recently learned her address is now published on the public web site of one of these companies. If this person, who appears to be quite knowledgeable about privacy protection strategies, cannot keep her own home address private, it is an indication that this is a much larger issue.
For illustration purposes, following are the names of several information brokers (some are inter-related). This list -- which is not comprehensive -- is evidence enough, in my opinion, that this industry is ripe for FTC scrutiny.
Background Record Finder
Cellular Phone Records
Family Tree Maker
Find a Friend
My People Reports
Online Background Checks
People Find USA
People of America
People Record Finder
Public Record Finder
Public Record Service
[The] Public Records
Public Records Now
Social Security Search USA
USA People Search
Vital Search Worldwide
Voter Lists Online