On Wednesday, privacy advocates told lawmakers in Washington, D.C. data companies are selling lists that include names of rape victims, drug and alcohol addicts, seniors suffering from dementia and more.
According to CNN, the World Privacy Forum found the lists during an investigation of data brokers and their practices. The data is used mainly to target shoppers based on specific details like clothing size or spending habits.
The group found brokers selling lists of rape victims, AIDs patients and more:
Other lists the nonprofit found included the home addresses of police officers, a mailing list for domestic violence shelters (which are typically kept secret by law) and a list of people with addictive behaviors towards drug and alcohol.
Currently, data brokers are required by federal law to maintain the privacy of a consumer's data only if it is used for credit, employment, insurance or housing. And while medical privacy laws prohibit doctors from sharing patient information, medical information that data brokers get elsewhere, such as from the purchase of over-the-counter drugs and other health care items, is fair game.
World Privacy Forum Executive Director Pam Dixon said some of the data could put people in danger. The idea of a predator getting their hands on a list filled with the names of people who are victims of sexual assault and what they might want to do with that is downright horrifying. CNN points out that list of seniors suffering from dementia could expose them up to scam artists or worse.
A Senate committee has been looking into data brokers for the past year. The Federal Trade Commission has called for increased transparency in the $156 billion data brokerage industry.
Some data brokers offer ways to opt out, but many have unclear opt-out procedures or none at all. Plus, most consumers have no idea they're on the lists in the first place, said Dixon.
Committee chairman John "Jay" Rockefeller was highly critical of some brokers, saying he was "revolted" by the lists that were uncovered. "I think it's our job as government to... bring into sunlight what is going on," he said. "I think its serious, and I think it's a dark underside of American life, in which people make a lot of money and cause people to suffer even more."
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