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The FTC wants to help you control how you're tracked online

Emily Price

Brokers are collecting and selling information about where you go and what you do online, and you might not even realize it's happening. According to an FTC report Tuesday, data brokers are compiling profiles on Americans, and then peddling that info to marketers and even politicians who want to target them. That's not anything new, however, the FTC is now recommending that Congress take a look at the industry and consider regulating data broker's collection practices.

Brokers are able to create profiles on you based on a ton of small things you might publicly share such as your activity on social media sites, warranty registrations and magazine subscriptions. While those things might seem tiny on their own, when you combine them together with other public information they can help create a pretty powerful picture of who you are and what you're into. Having your data collected could potentially have some benefits, for instance, advertisers could use the information to give a bike enthusiast a discount on a new motorcycle. But, the FTC notes that a life insurance company might see the same information and charge someone a higher premium for "risky behavior." Since the practice isn't regulated, you'd be just as likely to be the target of both scenarios.

The commission is suggesting that Congress put the power of what's shared in your hands. It wants to require that companies notify you when they plan to pass around your information, and give you an opportunity to opt out. It also wants there to be a centralized portal where brokers have to identify themselves and their data collection practices, including where they're getting their information. It also wants consumers to have access to that data, so they can correct any misinformation. All that sounds like a good idea to us. Whether Congress, who uses that same information when it comes election time, takes the commission's advice, we'll just have to wait and see.

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