The feds have started thinking about privacy and profits

Florida license plate cams
Anyone snap a photo of your license plate lately?

The power of data helps Facebook find our friends and Netflix choose our movies but, as recent reports make clear, there’s also a looming dark side to the growing consumer data economy…

A Connecticut data broker called “Statlistics” advertises lists of gay and lesbian adults and “Response Solutions” — people suffering from bipolar disorder.

“Paramount Lists”…in Erie, Pa. offers lists of people with alcohol, sexual and gambling addictions and people desperate to get out of debt.

A Chicago company, “Exact Data,” is brokering the names of people who had a sexually transmitted disease, as well as lists of people who have purchased adult material and sex toys.

Meanwhile, a new investigation into license plate scanning describes how enterprising individuals are strapping cameras in order to troll parking lots for cars to repossess. In doing so, the camera-equipped cars hoover up every license plate they see, while adding time and location data; the drivers then relay this data to brokers like Digital Recognition Network of Texas, which claims to collect plate scans of 40 percent of all US vehicles annually.

The scope of this private data collection is all the more remarkable since the private companies that collect it are not subject to the obligations to delete records that are imposed on many government and law enforcement agencies…

Right now, the Federal Trade Commission is conducting an investigation of nine major brokers — Acxiom, Corelogic, Datalogix, eBureau, ID Analytics, Intelius, Peekyou, Rapleaf, and Recorded Future – to see how they are using consumer information.

After all, we live in the land of the free. If individuals – or corporations – were inclined to invade our property for one or another phony reason, illegitimate rationale, foolish premise, we can always count on the government to defend our rights.


Here’s a truly useful contest from [of all people] the Federal Trade Commission

In the United States, about 30 billion robocalls…are placed each year, and similar conditions hold across much of the world. In the U.S. and many other countries, most commercial robocalls are illegal. As part of an ongoing campaign against these illegal robocalls, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is launching its Robocall Challenge, seeking a solution that blocks illegal robocalls on cell phones and on landlines. It is offering a $50,000 cash prize for the best practical solution…

…Robocalling is very popular with a certain class of marketers whose services or products usually teeter on (or fall off) the border between misleading information and scams. The number of such calls…has skyrocketed with advances in technology, and government agencies are receiving huge waves of protests and complaints from their beleaguered citizens.

This has prompted the FTC to resort to using an innovation challenge for the first time. Hosted on, it joins other government-sponsored challenges designed to empower the public to bring their best ideas and talent to bear on our nation’s most pressing issues. The FTC Robocall Challenge is free to enter and open to the public, and also to companies having ten or fewer employees. Entries will be accepted until January 17, 2013…If a winning solution is identified, the FTC will announce the winner(s) early next April.

Calling all geeks. There probably are high school students who can come up with reasonable solutions to this question. That’s just the start. How about some unemployed coder who couldn’t afford to move to Silicon Valley or NYC?

Go for it!