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FTC urges stronger legislation to protect consumers' data

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission sounded the call for action to better protect consumers' personal information on the Internet.

The agency called on Congress to pass legislation that would regulate so-called data brokers that buy and sell consumers' personal data.

The legislation would give consumers access to information collected about them and allow them to correct and update such data.

The FTC also called on data companies to create a centralized website giving consumers better access to their data.

These protections are sorely needed. Considering how much time consumers spend online surfing, shopping and interacting on social media, they should be assured that their information isn't being exploited.

Already, the FTC has cracked down on many companies, including Internet powerhouses Google and Facebook, on privacy issues.

"In today's world of smartphones, smart grids, and smart cars, companies are collecting, storing, and sharing more information about consumers than ever before," the FTC said in its report, "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: Recommendations for Businesses and Policymakers."

"Although companies use this information to innovate and deliver better products and services to consumers, they should not do so at the expense of consumer privacy."

The FTC said consumers should have more control over the use of their information and said that "appropriate legislation could help address this goal."

"Any such legislation could be modeled on a bill that the House passed on a bipartisan basis during the 111th Congress, which included a procedure for consumers to access and dispute personal data held by information brokers," the FTC said.

Consumer advocates praised the agency's recommendations.

"U.S. [Public Interest Research Group] has long urged requiring companies that collect and use confidential consumer information to comply with the Code of Fair Information Practices," Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the consumer group, wrote on his blog.

He said those rules, first proposed in the 1970s, require:

*Minimal collection of consumer data and limits on use.

*No secondary use of the data without informed consent of consumers.

*A right for consumers to review and correct dossiers and files.

*Keeping information accurate and secure, as well as additional protections "that have become even more important as the Internet has accelerated the collection of consumer data."

Data companies said they respect consumers' privacy.

"It is important to note that we do provide consumers with choices, we comply with all applicable laws, follow established industry self-regulatory guidelines and use a variety of processes and procedures to safeguard consumer data," said Gerry Tschopp, senior vice president of public affairs at Experian.

Acxiom, another data broker, said it's always advocated clear disclosure to consumers.