H.R. 611 (Rep. Rush’s Best Practices Act), S. 799 (Sen. Kerry’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act) and the Federal Trade Commission’s recent Privacy Report all would require companies and organizations to allow consumers access to data about them and an opportunity to correct inaccuracies. Similar provisions appear in almost all of the data security bills in Congress, except Rep. Bono Mack’s SAFE Data Act.
Survey and opinion research data is different
Access to consumer data may make sense in contexts where such data (particularly if inaccurate) could adversely impact a consumer’s credit rating, personal or professional reputation, or likelihood of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud. None of these conditions should reasonably be assumed to apply to survey and opinion research data.
Participation in survey and opinion research is voluntary. Research best practices already require disclosure of what data is being collected and used, and for what purpose, and that participants be given the opportunity to opt out.
Heavy costs and authentication challenges
The cost of access and the ability of companies to authenticate the identity of consumers requesting access are serious concerns and weigh heavily against survey and opinion research companies being required to grant access.
The cost of access/correction could be quite onerous, especially for smaller research companies and organizations, with a potential deluge of frivolous or pointless inquiries.
Since the research process is interested in broad groups, not individuals, compiling and tracking individual consumer data would require complex and expensive procedures and infrastructure not currently in use. Moreover, such tracking could lead to a much greater threat of harm from data leakage – and empower the kind of consumer tracking that so many legislators and regulators seems to fear.
MRA’s position on access/correction in data privacy and data security legislation
MRA supports the concept of a “sliding scale” for access in order to reconcile the vague benefits with the expected costs. We propose that the availability and extent of access should depend on the data actually being capable of being used for criminal or fraudulent purposes.
More importantly, the use of the data should matter, and data collected, used and shared for survey and opinion research purposes should not be subject to access/correction – especially given that consumer concern focuses on commercial data brokerage for marketing, credit and employment purposes, not on research purposes.