Two WPF Reports Cited in White House Big Data Report; WPF supportive of report findings

Two key recent reports published by the World Privacy Forum, The Scoring of America and Data Brokers and the Federal Government, were cited in the White House’s new report on Big Data.

Of note, the White House report agreed with WPF’s position strongly taken in the Data Brokers and the Federal Government report (October, 2013) that new privacy guidance issued in 2013 from OMB for a Do Not Pay program run by the US government set a meaningful example that could and should be replicated in programs across the US Federal government. The OMB guidance rightly recognized that commercial data sources may present new or increased privacy risks, such as databases with inaccurate or out-of-date information, and addressed some of those risks.

The White House report stated:

Given the increasing range of sensitive information available about individuals through commercial sources, this guidance is a significant step to ensure privacy protections when private-sector data is used to inform government decision-making. Similar OMB guidance should be considered for a wider range of agencies and programs, so the protections Americans have come to expect from their government exist regardless of where data originates.

While this may be very technical, it is of crucial importance to implement going forward, and the White House report rightly recognizes its importance.

Also of note, the White House report agreed with WPF’s extensive 90-page research study in the Scoring of America showing that predictive analytics that result in consumer scoring can introduce substantive privacy issues that impact the lives of individuals. The WPF Scoring report noted, among other things, that the Fair Credit Reporting Act is not sufficient to resolve the problems that are introduced, a position which the White House report echoed.

The White House report echoed closely WPF’s Scoring of America research and findings, stating:

Fueled by greater access to data and powerful analytics, there are now a host of products that “score” individuals beyond the scope of traditional credit scores, which are regulated by law. These products attempt to statistically characterize everything from a consumer’s ability to pay to whether, on the basis of their social media posts, they are a “social influencer” or “socially influenced.”

While these scores may be generated for marketing purposes, they can also in practice be used similarly to regulated credit scores in ways that influence an individuals’ opportunities to find housing, forecast their job security, or estimate their health, outside of the protections of the Fair Credit Reporting Act or Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Details on what types of data are included in these scores and the algorithms used for assigning attributes to an individual are held closely by companies and largely invisible to consumers. That means there is often no meaningful avenue for either identifying harms or holding any entity in the decision-making chain accountable.

WPF also submitted separate written comments to the White House panel discussing the importance of addressing the needs of vulnerable populations as well as addressing technical issues such as accuracy and overfitting in analytical models.

“We are pleased that the White House report has correctly recognized critically important issues that impact individuals’  privacy in the area of big data. We commend the report for clearly recognizing that information originally intended for marketing purposes can also be used to impact individuals’ marketplace opportunities in substantive ways that impact peoples’ daily lives, and that creating meaningful protections is important,” said WPF executive director Pam Dixon.