Data personalization, or the use of data to infer or predict a consumer’s behavior, characteristics or interests, has made the internet browsing and shopping experience seamless. It serves advertisements and content to consumers based on inferences about their preferences, and immediately connects them with companies, goods and services they’re likely to have an interest in. An Adlucent survey found nearly three in four respondents said they would prefer personalized ads tailored to their interests and shopping habits instead of less relevant ones. Clearly, consumers enjoy this added benefit.
But bad actors have means for misusing data in harmful ways – whether to charge higher prices for goods or services, or to undercut eligibility for items such as housing or credit, based on personal traits like race, gender or sexual orientation. While the United States has existing anti-discrimination laws, there are some loopholes that permit for skirting around these laws when it comes to data use, potentially allowing for discriminatory practices to persist online.
Obviously, these loopholes are unacceptable. The problem is that we haven’t aligned on a legislative solution that really deals with the problem.
Americans need an outright ban on using data to discriminate against consumers on the basis of personal information like race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity with respect to the availability of fundamental services and price. The way we see it, this is a necessary step to ensure that all consumers have fair access to products and services online. This idea is a core component of the framework we’ve proposed for a federal privacy law.
Of course, we also recognize the value data personalization brings to consumers. We want to protect our ability to browse the internet freely and experience all the benefits of the responsible use of data from online companies. But anyone who wants to opt-out of data personalization should be allowed to, and our framework would ensure consumers have this choice. And of course, all Americans would be protected against discrimination, regardless of their personalization preferences.
You can see more specific thoughts on the issue here.