WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s hard to imagine a day without the internet. We use it for almost everything: for work, shopping, getting information and staying connected. As we navigate the web, there’s a lot more going on that we don’t see online. Consumer privacy advocates are concerned about your data rights.
“Consumers are increasingly being tracked in a number of different ways,” said Susan Grant, a senior fellow with the Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit association of consumer organizations. Grant focuses on the issue of consumer privacy, which is the handling and protection of personal information given by the customers and how companies and third-party data agencies collect, store and use that information.
These companies can gather a range of info about you, like your name, address, your purchase history, your computer’s IP address, which websites you visit, and even the apps you use.
“When an advertiser wants to find the right audience, for its products and services, there are a lot of middlemen involved,” said Grant. “The companies that for instance, lurk on websites, to follow consumers around to see what they’re reading, what they’re buying, and what they’re interested in, and then follow them from website to website in order to profile them make money by saying to advertisers, we can help deliver an ad to somebody on a website somewhere who’s likely to be interested in your products or services.”
Businesses argue that they use this formation to improve customer experience by modifying their digital presence, goods or services to better suit the current marketplace and change their marketing strategy to target those who are more likely to engage.
“And that can seem relatively benign, but even then, an ad that’s delivered to you on your phone or on your computer or even that you get in the mail may offer you one particular deal based on profiling you somebody else might be offered a quite different deal from the same company,” added Grant.
The Federal Trade Commission is supposed to oversee privacy and security enforcement and can initiate privacy cases if a company is using unfair and deceptive acts and practices in the marketplace. The FTC declined an interview with us. Grant said the FTC falls short in protecting privacy rights because they should set the rules for the road as for what kind of info can be collected and used by companies.
In the meantime, Grant encourages state legislatures, even congress, to look into strengthening privacy laws, but it might not be an easy task.
“There are a lot of very powerful interests that want to ensure that whatever state legislatures do, it doesn’t interfere with their current business practices,” said Grant.