White House Big Data Review Addresses Discrimination, Privacy Risks


On May 1, the White House’s working group on “big data” and privacy published a report on the findings of its 90-day review. In addition to considering privacy issues associated with big data, the group assessed the relationship between big data and discrimination, concluding, among other things, that “there are new worries that big data technologies could be used to ‘digitally redline’ unwanted groups, either as customers, employees, tenants, or recipients of credit” and that “big data could enable new forms of discrimination and predatory practices.” The report adds, “[t]he same algorithmic and data mining technologies that enable discrimination could also help groups enforce their rights by identifying and empirically confirming instances of discrimination and characterizing the harms they caused.” The working group recommends that the DOJ, the CFPB, and the FTC “expand their technical expertise to be able to identify practices and outcomes facilitated by big data analytics that have a discriminatory impact on protected classes, and develop a plan for investigating and resolving violations of law in such cases,” and adds that the President’s Council of Economic Advisers should assess “the evolving practices of differential pricing both online and offline, assess the implications for efficient operations of markets, and consider whether new practices are needed to ensure fairness.” The working group suggests that federal civil rights offices and the civil rights community should collaborate to “employ the new and powerful tools of big data to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are treated fairly.” With regard to privacy the report states that the “ubiquitous collection” of personal information and data, combined with the difficulty of keeping data anonymous, require policymakers to “look closely at the notice and consent framework that has been a central pillar of how privacy practices have been organized for more than four decades.” Among its policy recommendations, the working group urges (i) enactment of a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, informed by a Department of Commerce public comment process, and (ii) the adoption of a national data breach bill along the lines of the Administration’s May 2011 Cybersecurity legislative proposal. It also calls for data brokers to provide more transparency and consumer control of data.


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