What’s Meaningful Transparency for Consumers?

I wrote a piece for AdExchanger on the FTC Data Broker report on consumer data transparency. I argue that both the FTC and industry leaders don’t go far enough by exposing data. Consumers need to understand how data is being used.

The FTC’s definition of “sensitive information” is far too vague. So is the definition that industry leaders use.

“Data regarding personal information that pertains to employment or insurability decisions, or that relates to sensitive health-related issues or confidential matters deserves much different treatment than data that would indicate that I am a sports fan,” Scott Howe of Acxiom writes.

Some information is intuitively sensitive. But is driving a truck sensitive? I can imagine that my proclivity for truck driving could be used both to target advertising to me, but could also be a factor in risk-based calculations or inferred political leanings. Big data methods promise to surface novel correlations from matching up disparate data. That means innocuous-seeming data like sports fandom quickly becomes sensitive when used as proxies and towards unintuitive ends. It is unfair to expect consumers to understand the far-reaching effects of potential correlations.

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