Congress investigates companies’ use of data to impact consumers

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Legislators held a hearing Wednesday to investigate how algorithms affect the type of data acquired by companies and, in turn, how that information impacts consumers in their use of the internet.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’ subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection convened the meeting to gain a greater understanding of “how companies’ decisions about data and content impact consumers.” Black Friday weekend through Cyber Monday saw an increase of 16.8 percent in online sales from last year, according to Adobe Insights.

Subcommittee Chairman Robert Latta, R- Ohio, said it was the Equifax data breach that raised greater concerns about how consumer data is handled. Those concerns are compounded by Uber’s hack last month which left 57 million users/ personal data exposed.

“Rather than alert authorities and make the breach known to their users and drivers, Uber kept the hack secret for over a year,” Latta said. “Disregard of law and disregard of consumers’ and drivers’ trust all require close scrutiny.”

He then called on lawmakers to ensure that their constituents understand the risks of a digital environment.

“It is our obligation to ask the tough questions and make sure consumers understand how their information is being used in our digitally driven economy,” Latta said. “That is why we explore today how personal information about consumers is collected online and importantly how companies use that information to make decisions about content consumers see.”

The Subcommittee Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, D- Illinois, highlighted that some of what users see, content companies pay to put in front of those people.

“Algorithms determine what appears in web ads, search results, and your customized news feed,” Schakowsky said. “Some of the content you are presented may be based on personal information such as your gender race and location. It may also depend on how much companies have paid to get content in front of you.”

One witness, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Frank Pasquale, said that privacy erosion has led to the classification of users.

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