NEWS3 November 2014

MRA urges FTC not to make big data a ‘pejorative term’

Features News North America

US — The Marketing Research Association (MRA) has filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regarding a recent workshop discussing the “potential discriminatory effects of segmentation and analysis in large data sets”.

The FTC’s workshop, Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?, held last month, covered both the potential benefits of big data and a number of potential scenarios with “nebulous negative effects”.

In opening the workshop, FTC chairman Edith Ramirez said: “The proliferation of connected devices; the plummeting cost of collecting, storing, and processing information; and the ability of data brokers and others to combine offline and online data mean that companies can accumulate virtually unlimited amounts of consumer information and store it indefinitely.

Ramirez went on to say that, big data is growing in its capacity to “reinforce disadvantages faced by low-income and underserved communities. As businesses segment consumers to determine what products are marketed to them, the prices they are charged, and the level of customer service they receive, the worry is that existing disparities will be exacerbated”.

In response, the MRA filed comments with the FTC, stating: “Big data frequently serves as sort of a cipher. The term is widely-referenced but poorly understood, and people in the public policy community see in it a variety of hopes and fears.

“MRA wants to ensure that big data does not become a pejorative term, such as the FTC and privacy activists have made of the term ‘data broker’.

“The FTC’s continued focus on the practice of segmentation indicates that a key aspect of research is under misguided scrutiny. The FTC would do well to articulate the policy changes necessary to combat such specific uses, instead of denigrating through generalisations a key part of research.”

Full comments can be read here.