The Federal Trade Commission today said it is in the process of cracking down on companies that illegally share data gleaned from consumers, especially health data.

In a blog post today, Kristin Cohen, the FTC’s acting associate director in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, said there remains a lot of “shadowy” brokers out there who collect people’s data from a wide range of online applications, gaining sensitive information about their health status.

“Consider the unprecedented intrusion when these connected devices and technology companies collect that data, combine it, and sell or monetize it,” she warned. “This isn’t the stuff of dystopian fiction. It’s a question consumers are asking right now.”

She explained that through connected devices, the consumer could be giving away information about their location and routine, which in terms of people’s health, can be useful to companies looking to advertise health products. It’s no secret that this has been happening for years, but now Cohen says the FTC wants to crack down on what she calls a “murky marketplace” of “aggregators and brokers.” She cited a 2014 report which included one broker who bragged that his company had 3,000 points of data for nearly every consumer in the U.S.

The consumer is almost always in the dark when this happens, so now the FTC wants to force companies to be more transparent about the data they’ve collected, what’s been anonymized, and what will be shared. “The Commission is committed to using the full scope of its legal authorities to protect consumers’ privacy,” she said. “We will vigorously enforce the law if we uncover illegal conduct that exploits Americans’ location, health, or other sensitive data. The FTC’s past enforcement actions provide a roadmap for firms seeking to comply with the law.”

This comes shortly after President Biden signed an executive order that urged the FTC to protect consumers’ privacy when looking for services related to reproductive health. After the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision on the constitutional right to an abortion, there are now fears that states may be seeking personal data on citizens that have looked for an abortion.

Photo: Mael Balland/Unsplash

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