Reclaim Your Name: FTC Commissioner Unveils New Approach to “Big Data”

Published On July 2, 2013 | By Stacey Brandenburg | FTC & State AG, Privacy
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In the FTC’s most recent effort to address “big data” privacy and security concerns, Commissioner Julie Brill proposed a self-regulatory initiative – “Reclaim Your Name” – that would give consumers more insight into and control over the information data brokers collect about them.

The Reclaim Your Name proposal came as part of Ms. Brill’s keynote address at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference.  After setting out how big data might create risks for certain consumers – such as combining of online and offline information – she offered what she described as a constructive solution. Her proposed mechanism would enable consumers to find out what information has been collected about them, how it is being used, how to correct it if it is inaccurate, and how to opt-out if a data broker is selling the information for marketing purposes. In essence, she suggested applying the type of notice and correction principles (and to some extent, the “opt-out” mechanisms that exist for online data) to the broader data industry.

Ms. Brill did not provide specifics about how Reclaim Your Name would operate or who would be covered by it (e.g., whether traditional data providers such as magazines, charities, or retailers might be affected), although she alluded to her prior call on data brokers to create a “one-stop online shop” where consumers could access their data. She also suggested that the new mechanism might dovetail with the Do Not Track tool, which addresses online consumer tracking, and it is likely that she envisions that Reclaim Your Name would function in a similar way, albeit likely requiring more integration and infrastructure. Ms. Brill offered to work with industry to develop an approach that is consensus-based and technically and commercially feasible.

It is far from clear how much traction Reclaim Your Name will gain.  Ms. Brill indicated that she had received some industry receptiveness to her proposal, but as evidenced with Do Not Track, self-regulatory initiatives can find difficulty achieving consensus, given the large number of potential stakeholders. One day prior to Ms. Brill’s remarks, Acxiom, a major data broker, announced that consumers would be able to view information the company holds on them.  This type of corporate example, combined with Ms. Brill’s request to the industry to “come to the table to help consumers reclaim their names,” will create some pressure on other brokers to comply with at least the spirit of the Reclaim Your Name, even in the absence of a legal obligation. Additionally, with Congress and the FTC already investigating the data broker industry, good faith efforts at self-regulation might reduce the likelihood of legislatively-imposed solutions.

Click here for full text of Ms. Brill’s speech.

About The Author

Stacey advises clients on a wide range of privacy and data security issues. A veteran of the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, Stacey assists clients in responding to FTC investigations involving potential violations of Section 5 of the FTC Act, the FTC’s advertising guidelines, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). She also helps clients respond to investigations by State Attorneys General. Stacey helps clients implement sound security and privacy practices and provides compliance training to employees. Stacey is on the faculty at American University’s Washington College of Law, where she teaches on technology and privacy-related issues.

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