The US Federal Trade Commission has asked Congress to consider tightening controls over the data broker industry, a term it uses for firms that store, use and sell consumer data.
The FTC data broker report (PDF) said that the industry generates billions of pieces of data with little oversight. It added that, while this data can be used for good purposes it can also have an impact on individual privacy.
"The extent of consumer profiling today means that data brokers often know as much - or even more - about us than our family and friends, including our online and in-store purchases, our political and religious affiliations, our income and socioeconomic status, and more," said FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez.
"It's time to bring transparency and accountability to bear on this industry on behalf of consumers, many of whom are unaware that data brokers even exist."
The FTC looked at nine companies, which were ordered to provide their data for scrutiny. Those companies are Acxiom, CoreLogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, PeekYou, Rapleaf and Recorded Future. The process was begun last December.
The FTC said that one of the companies holds information on 1.4 billion consumer transactions and adds over three billion new elements to its database every month.
The regulator would like to see changes that give individuals more control over the data, allowing them to see what is collected, what it is used for and what inferences can be taken from it.
The FTC warned that without oversight the industry can use the data in ways that do not suit consumers, adding that they should give consumers the right to edit their records, understand their use, and opt-out of having their data collected.
In the UK the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) regularly chides firms and organisations that lose customer data, often through basic errors and shoddy data-handling practices, with fines of up to £500,000 available to punish offenders.
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