Should consumers trust data brokers to protect their information?

Coverage Type: 

[Commentary] Federal regulators say companies that buy and sell consumer data operate largely in the shadows and should be reined in with new privacy laws. The marketing trade group that speaks for so-called data brokers says that no such laws are necessary and that these companies do a fine job of policing themselves.

As the Joker said in Tim Burton's "Batman," "Who do you trust? Hubba, hubba, hubba! Money, money, money! Who do you trust?" Left to their own device over the years, data brokers have consistently striven to keep consumers in the dark about the information they collect and what they do with it.

The Federal Trade Commission isn't trying to shut the industry down. It simply wants to give people more say over how their personal info is used.

Among the agency's recommendations is creation of a website that would allow consumers to see what various data brokers know about them and opt out of having their info used in the future. It also wants retailers and other businesses to notify consumers before sharing information with data brokers and, again, to allow people to opt out of such activities. If information is especially sensitive, such as medical info, people would have to be asked for their permission before it could be placed in the hands of data brokers.

These are excellent proposals. Will Congress act on them? I wouldn't hold my breath, considering Washington's lousy track record for privacy safeguards since the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Should consumers trust data brokers to protect their information?