Every day, many of us use apps and websites that track what we do online and sell that information to third party companies. Everything from weather apps to shopping websites can share our data – including precise location information and browsing history – with hundreds of companies known as data brokers. These companies make considerable money off of the aggregation, analysis, and sale of our data to advertisers and other firms. Data brokers can even make very personal inferences about our habits and health conditions that can be used against us; a data broker using a person’s purchase and search history may identify them as a “frequent drinker”, and end up targeting someone recovering from alcoholism with ads for beer and booze – the exact opposite of what that person needs.
A new bill introduced yesterday would ban the sale of health and location data nationwide, and write rules for the currently unregulated data broker industry. The bill, called the Health and Location Data Protection Act, joins a host of proposed data legislation currently being considered by federal lawmakers. It’s unlikely to pass this session. Regardless, regulating the sale of our most personal information by companies we’ve never heard of to marketers that want to exploit our personal lives is a sound idea – whether it be through legislation or other regulatory effort.