The amount of information that so-called data brokers collect about ordinary Americans is astonishing.
By vacuuming up information from social media postings, combing through online consumer transactions and adding public records to the mix, these aggregators create powerful and detailed profiles.
The practice has gained steam in recent years, and it is becoming clear that individuals should have the ability to see what data brokers have collected about them and have some control over information gathered that is not public record.
The Federal Trade Commission recently released a report that provided an in-depth look at how nine of the nation's data brokers conduct what is essentially commercial surveillance.
The FTC said consumers should be able to see the information collected about them and have meaningful ways of managing the use of that information.
There is a substantial lack of transparency in how these businesses conduct themselves, the FTC found.
However, it's only fair to note the commission did not find any evidence of illegal use of data. That's important because it suggests data brokers recognize they are treading in sensitive territory when it comes to privacy.
Nevertheless, categorizing people as " diabetes interest" or "expectant parent," to cite two examples the FTC found, and using or selling this information poses legitimate questions about whether the brokers have gone too far.
What if you'd prefer to keep a health condition a private matter or haven't yet told anyone that a child is on the way?
Data mining is an important part of commerce, and individuals have a responsibility to be mindful of the information they share online. Yet, there ought to be a simple way of limiting the dissemination of information about yourself that is not in the public domain without giving up on the Internet or shopper loyalty cards altogether.
Copyright Denver Post. Distributed by the Associated Press.