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Senators ask FTC to fight stalkers exploiting people search sites

Senators ask FTC to fight stalkers exploiting people search sites


Data brokers can reveal victims’ phone numbers or addresses

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Continuing Resolution
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) want the Federal Trade Commission to take steps to protect people who have experienced abuse and stalking from invasive people search sites, potentially including measures to help them remove their addresses from data brokers.

“We write to express serious concerns about recent reports that data brokers are publicizing the location and contact information of victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking,” the senators wrote in the letter, which The Hill reporter Chris Mills Rodrigo posted online. “We have serious concerns that third-party data brokers play a role in revealing [a] protected address and providing access to personal information that can lead to continued abuse.”

The letter cites a 2020 Consumer Reports story about the risks of data brokers like Intelius and Spokeo — which are promoted as modern-day phone books, offering phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, and other information. These sites have takedown policies, but the sheer volume of services — as well as the way they automatically scrape personal data — can make it almost impossible to permanently keep phone numbers or addresses offline. That’s despite some state laws regulating data brokers or offering confidentiality programs to people threatened by stalkers or abusers.

Murkowski and Klobuchar ask the FTC to outline how it could coordinate with other agencies to keep violent abuse perpetrators from accessing personal information, as well as its current measures to help educate victims about data broker services and help them in the event of a privacy breach. The letter also asks if the agency has plans to prevent brokers from “collecting, buying, or selling lists of vulnerable populations.”

The letter could be a precursor to more congressional action around abuse and privacy online. Klobuchar, for instance, recently sponsored the SAFE TECH Act — which adds legal liability for sites that host harassment or stalking-related content.