Reclaiming Your Name Online

By: Garrett Wymer Email
By: Garrett Wymer Email

STAUNTON -- It is called "big data,' and, whether it is from information posted on a social network, to one's online shopping history, it is a big business. But one FTC commissioner has a plan to put the control back in the people's hands.

With every click of the mouse, tap of a smart phone, swipe of a credit card and post on a social network, people give away more and more information about themselves. From sending coupons to deciding whether or not someone is eligible for a credit card, in the internet age, data mining companies are constantly learning more about people online.

Companies and data brokerages love it. It allows them to gather information, and sell it to marketers and manufacturers.

The idea makes Adam Wirdzek uncomfortable.

"That information, when it's no longer yours, and it belongs to someone else, they can perceive it and look at it and mess with it as much as they want," he said.

But a new proposal from Federal Trade commissioner Julie Brill could give people more control over their information online.

The program is called "Reclaim Your Name." According to Brill, it would let people know how data brokers collect and use their information, provide access to the information and allow people to opt out if the broker is selling it for marketing. Also, much like the Fair Credit Reporting Act, it would give people the chance to correct errors if the information is used to decide whether or not they are eligible for certain programs.

People are aware of data mining, even accepting of it to a certain extent.

"Whenever I go online," said Daniel Wirdzek, "I'm always aware that I'm being watched." He wants to see the companies be more transparent, so he can know what they are doing and why, he said.

For others, it is about being able to decide for themselves what information they share.

"I think the real issue for me is that consumers have a say and a choice," said Holly Richardson.

Adam Wirdzek agrees.

"Do you want that, as a society? That kind of information is yours. Do you want to share that with other people? I don't know if I want to."

Brill's proposal is a voluntary program for data brokers. At a conference in Washington this week she said she already has heard from several brokers interested in adopting it.


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