Dozens of US tech firms violate EU privacy promises, advocacy group says

The Center for Digital Democracy calls on the FTC to investigate 30 companies

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Thirty U.S. data brokers and data management firms, including Adobe Systems, AOL and Salesforce.com, are violating privacy promises they've made regarding their handling of the personal information of EU residents, a privacy group said in a complaint to be filed Thursday.

The 30 companies have all voluntarily committed to supporting the EU Safe Harbor framework, a set of standards for protecting the privacy of EU residents, but have failed to live up to those promises, the Center for Digital Democracy said in the complaint.

The failure to honor EU Safe Harbor commitments constitutes a deceptive business practice, the CDD said in its complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. "The commercial surveillance of EU consumers by U.S. companies, without consumer awareness or meaningful consent, contradicts the fundamental rights of EU citizens and European data protection law," the complaint said.

The CDD called on U.S. and EU officials to suspend the program pending an investigation by the FTC, the U.S. agency responsible for enforcing the safe harbor provisions.

The 30 companies named in the complaint also include digital profiling firm Datalogix, marketing software maker Marketo, Oracle-owned data management firm BlueKai, and Neustar, a DNS and callrouting service that, after a recent acquisition, has also become a targeted advertising provider.

The companies in the complaint "create detailed digital dossiers" of EU residents, the CDD complaint said. The companies combine public records with online tracking technologies, mobile tracking and other sources, and can collect addresses, purchase histories, income and family structure, the CDD said.

In many cases, companies listed in the complaint are collecting more personal information from EU residents than described in their Safe Harbor statements, according to the CDD.

The CDD's investigation found that several digital tracking companies have "pervasive problems" with the Safe Harbor program, said Jeffrey Chester, the group's executive director. Many of the companies fail to provide "accurate and meaningful information" to EU residents and don't provide them the ability to opt out of data collection, he said.

Another problem is a "lack of candor on what data is actually collected," he said.

The CDD also criticized the FTC and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which helped to develop the Safe Harbor framework, for a lack of enforcement. The FTC settled Safe Harbor complaints with 14 companies in June. The Safe Harbor framework has been in place since 2000.

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