Congresswoman Speier has a long-time record of standing up for consumers. Whether it’s financial services and credit card reform, keeping products safe, or protecting privacy, she has always worked to ensure Americans are treated fairly.

Privacy is a major concern for the millions of Americans who regularly use the internet, and consumers need clear choices in deciding if or how they want their personal information collected, traded and sold by online companies. You wouldn’t allow the phone company to listen to and record all of your phone conversations—and use that information for any purpose they choose forever—in exchange for free phone service, so why are companies allowed to do basically the same thing with your online activity?

Right now, if you are online you are probably being watched by dozens if not hundreds of online trackers. It’s almost impossible to tell how many. We now live in a world where information about our behavior, online browsing habits, and other online and offline activity is collected, analyzed, bundled, used, shared, bought and sold, often instantaneously and invisibly.  

What do they want to know about you? Only they know because they don’t have to tell you. After they follow you around for a while, what will they do with all the information they gather about you? They don’t have to tell you that either. They might not even know themselves--yet. But your data is valuable or they wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep access to it.

All that personal information is valuable and can be stored indefinitely. It can be combined with information from other sources into dossiers that could eventually be used for many purposes. We now know that data collection practices have become a business in themselves, driven by profits at consumers’ expense, instead of for their benefit. Life insurance companies have started using online shopping and other data in their longevity analyses. It is not farfetched to think that health insurance companies, auto insurers, employers and numerous others will find these data troves irresistible. And all this data is digital, so it never goes away.  

Despite claims that most of the information gathered is not personally identifiable, experts now say that data gatherers are collecting so much information about you that all it takes is a few keystrokes to figure out the rest, including your name. Most people would probably be shocked by how much data is gathered and how persistently and easily their activities, including conversations in chat rooms, are tracked and profiled. It is likely they can determine your age, gender, religion, financial status, health concerns, address, and the ages of your children.  

An NBCNews.com report in February 2013 revealed that salary and other sensitive employment information on millions of Americans in a large, but little-known database, created through an Equifax-owned company called The Work Number, is being sold to debt collectors, financial service companies and other entities. In response, Speier called upon Equifax to prove that its subsidiary, The Work Number, is not circumventing or compromising laws that protect individual’s financial and personal privacy. Speier made the request in a letter, cosigned by six members of Congress, to Richard F. Smith, Chairman and CEO of Equifax. Read the NBCNews report and Speier’s letter.

Merely providing general information about data practices is not effective transparency; this information must be accessible, clear, meaningful, salient, and comprehensible to its intended audience.

Legislation
Congresswoman Speier has introduced legislation in the 112th Congress to protect personal privacy, and will soon reintroduce it in the 113th Congress:

The Financial Information Privacy Act (H.R. 653 112th Congress) would finally give consumers the ability to control the sharing of their own sensitive financial information. The bill mirrors legislation Speier successfully steered to passage in California that prevents financial institutions from sharing or selling personally identifiable nonpublic information with affiliates without an opportunity to opt-out, or in the case of unaffiliated third parties, a requirement that consumers opt-in. This bill gives consumers control of their personal financial information thereby providing meaningful but workable privacy protection.

The Do Not Track Me Online Act (H.R. 654, 112th Congress) would direct the Federal Trade Commission to develop standards for a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would allow individuals to choose to opt out of the collection, use or sale of their online activities, and require covered entities to respect the consumer’s choice. Failure to do so would be considered an unfair or deceptive act punishable by law. The covered entity would have to disclose its collection and sharing practices, including with whom the information is shared. The bill would allow the FTC to exempt commonly accepted commercial practices like the collection of information for billing purposes.

New legislation Speier will be introducing in the 113th Congress:

The Mobile App Privacy Protection Act would require a clear and simple one page notice designed to be read on a mobile device, highlighting data practices that involve sensitive information or are likely to be unexpected because they involve data not required for an app’s basic functionality. The notice would provide information on the terms and conditions governing the collection, use, storage, and sharing of the personal data and require the consumer’s opt-in prior to download of the app. It would also provide a mechanism for the consumer to access data collected upon request, an easy method to revoke consent, access to personally identifiable data collected upon request, including that shared with 3rd parties, and require a privacy notice to be sent every 6 months if sensitive data is collected (GPS, financial, health, passwords, contacts, passwords, photos, children’s information ) detailing collection practices and informing the consumer of the right to revoke consent and remove data from the server. Civil actions by the Attorney General, state attorneys general, and aggrieved individuals for violations would be authorized.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Congresswoman Speier was a strong proponent of the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law in 2010 to protect consumers from abusive practices and hold banks and non-bank lenders accountable. The CFPB’s mission is to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans — whether they are applying for a mortgage, choosing among credit cards, or using any number of other consumer financial products, including student loans. You can file a complaint about a financial institution, or check the CFPB complaint database to see if a financial institution has received many complaints.

You can make a complaint or get information on mortgages, student loans, credit cards and other financial products at  www.consumerfinance.gov.

News stories
Politico: Do Not Track Our Online Data
Wall Street Journal: What They Know

New York Times: Apps for Children Fall Short on Disclosure to Parents, Report Says
New York Times: Their Apps Track You. Will Congress Track Them?

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