Who’s mining the store? Big data brokers and the rise of data mining

The surprising answer is that a substantial legal and regulatory void exists

Just weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommended that Congress require the data broker industry to be more transparent and give consumers greater control over their own personal information. The agency issued a detailed report on data brokers and summarized the extensive data collection efforts that it uncovered in its study of the industry. So it was deja vu all over again when weeks later, a Wall Street Journal headline read, “Facebook to Give Advertisers More User Data.” The article summarized Facebook’s efforts to vacuum up its users’ web browsing habits and sell that data to advertisers.

According to media reports, Facebook collects web browsing histories by placing lines of computer code on its users' computers, thereby gathering data about the websites its users visit. Facebook apparently also gathers data about which mobile apps its users have downloaded onto their mobile devices. The company had said it keeps this data only for security reasons — but apparently, there may also be a lucrative data mining potential for such information, as reflected in the sale of that data to advertisers.

Contributing Author

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Richard Martinez

Richard Martinez is a trial attorney at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. Rick’s practice focuses substantially on technology, primarily in the areas of intellectual...

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