Open Letter to Sen. Jay Rockefeller
Dear Mr. Rockefeller:
You’ve been complaining a lot lately claiming so-called data brokers have not been forthcoming to you about the sources of their data.
Just this week in the Financial Times you groused: “It’s outrageous that Epsilon and other data brokers are still refusing to be transparent about their customers and sources of consumer information. Consumers deserve to know who is buying and selling their personal information – and I intend to get to the bottom of this mystery.”
If I may be so presumptuous, let me attempt to explain to you why what you perceive as stonewalling is a sound business decision.
For one, you display abject ignorance of how marketing works and you seem to revel in your ignorance. You have apparently made no attempt to educate yourself.
During a recent hearing on data-driven marketing, you said: “I can’t prove it’s wrong, but there’s something lethal about it. There’s something unfair about it.”
Those are not the words of someone with an open mind. Those are the words of a crusader.
Moreover, you are demanding so-called data-brokers to divulge trade secrets. Companies that deal in marketing profiles all have access to certain well-known sources of data. But they all also have their own secret sauce that they no doubt believe is a differentiator that makes them better than the competition.
For obvious reasons, they don’t want their competitors to have access to their secrets.
Frankly, they can’t trust you to learn the inner workings of their business models, draw the obvious conclusion that their activities are not only harmless, but beneficial to consumers, and keep your yap shut.
You have already decided something lethal—your word, not mine—is going on and are clearly intent on showboating “proof” whether you find it or not.
Giving you the information you seek would be akin to handing an infant in the midst of a temper tantrum a grenade and trusting him not to pull the pin.
And in this case, the grenade is only dangerous to the people you’ve forced to hand it over.
Moreover, according to one well-placed source, these companies have already handed you thousands of pages of information detailing the types of data they collect. They are simply refusing to divulge the names of their customers and data sources because—among other things—they are contractually obligated to do so.
As the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, you certainly understand the importance of contracts, don’t you? Or maybe you don’t. There is so much you clearly do not understand.
You have compared trading in marketing profiles to coal mines skimping on workers’ safety for the sake of profits—a ridiculous comparison on its face that indicates on an intellectual level you are not to be taken seriously.
Now, from a legislative standpoint, you are certainly to be taken seriously. After all, you can do immense damage and are apparently intent on doing so.
By demanding their trade secrets, you are asking Acxiom, Epsilon and Experian, among others, to willingly commit suicide.
Be outraged all you want that they are refusing hand over information you have already stated you would use to harm them. Just please don’t be surprised.