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Internet

FTC commissioner calls for way to 'reclaim your name'

U.S. consumers should be able to reclaim control of their personal data from data brokers, websites and other companies, a member of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday.

Commissioner Julie Brill, a long-time privacy advocate, will push for an initiative called Reclaim Your Name that would give consumers knowledge and technology tools to reassert control over personal data held by companies, she said. Consumers should be "the ones to decide how much to share, with whom and for what purpose," Brill said during the Computers, Freedom & Privacy Conference in Washington, D.C.

Reclaim Your Name would allow consumers to find out how data brokers and other companies are collecting and using data, give them access to the data collected and allow them to opt out of collection for marketing purposes, Brill said. The initiative would help consumers navigate the potential down sides of collection of their information in the name of big data analytics, she said.

In some cases, big data collectors are "taking advantage of us without our permission," Brill said. "Often without consent or warning, and sometimes in completely surprising ways, big data analysts are tracking our every click and purchase, examining them to determine exactly who we are -- establishing our name, good or otherwise -- and retaining the information in dossiers that we know nothing about, much less consent to."

Consumers should have access to more information about what data is collected, she said. "Many consumers have been loath to examine too closely the price we pay, in terms of forfeiting control of our personal data, for all the convenience, communication, and fun of a free-ranging and mostly free cyberspace," she said. "With ... knowledge comes power -- the power to review, this time with eyes wide open, what privacy means -- or should mean -- in the age of the Internet."

Companies that participate in Reclaim Your Name would agree to tailor their data handling and data choice tools to the sensitivity of the personal data they collect, Brill said. Companies that handle sensitive data would provide greater transparency and "more robust" notice and choice to consumers, she said.

Brill called on credit reporting agencies to develop better tools to help consumers understand and correct their credit reports. "There are simply too many errors in traditional credit reports," she said.

Reclaim Your Name would fit in with the FTC's push for an online do-not-track mechanism, Brill said. Do-not-track would allow consumers to choose when their data is collected for marketing purchases, and Reclaim Your Name would give consumers access to online and offline data already collected and give them some choice about how that data is used, she said. "Together, these policies will restore consumers' rights to privacy that big data has not just challenged but has abrogated in too many instances," she said.

Brill didn't give a lot of details about the initiative, but said she would be working on it in the coming months.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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