The Commerce Department disclosed on Wednesday that it is opening an inquiry into the extent to which extensive corporate surveillance and data collecting pose a disproportionate risk to marginalized groups.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) assistant secretary of commerce, Alan Davidson, stated in a news release that “everyone in America deserves strong privacy protections. The repercussions of privacy violations might be felt more sharply in underprivileged communities, therefore this is very relevant to them.
In a request for comments, the NTIA, a division of the Commerce Department, invited the general public and experts to provide testimony regarding how the gathering, sharing, and use of data can worsen structural inequities. At an undefined time, the NTIA said it will publish a report on its findings.
People of color, the LGBTQ community, and other oppressed or undeserving groups are particularly at risk from the negative consequences of the data economy, according to tech sector critics.
According to Davidson, data collecting and sharing increase the potential of new digital discrimination mimicking earlier kinds of profiling, redlining, and exclusion. They are worried about the potential for these behaviors to obstruct social and economic prospects, from housing and employment to health and safety.
There are a wealth of dystopian examples from the tech media’s coverage over the past ten years. For instance, a Gizmodo investigation conducted shortly after the Supreme Court threw down abortion restrictions discovered as many as 32 data brokers selling profiles of pregnant women, information that law enforcement officials are frequently perfectly within their rights to purchase. A priest’s homosexuality was revealed in 2021 by a right-wing Catholic site using advertising data gathered by the advertising sector. A short time after that, the priest left.
There are too many of these kinds of stories available on Facebook, the internet’s most despised violator of privacy. The Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Facebook of breaching the Fair Housing Act by utilizing an advertising system that encouraged discrimination, which was one of the lowest points for the social network. Demographic characteristics including color, religion, sex, and handicap might be used by Facebook’s ad clients to block access to housing and employment advertisements for specific groups of people. In addition to a monetary fine, Facebook’s Justice Department deal included modifications in design to address the issue.
While Meta, the parent company of Facebook, claims to have introduced new technology to solve the issues brought on by its previous iterations, studies consistently demonstrate that data discrimination issues still exist. According to a recent study, Facebook uses its systems to determine who sees ads by identifying the ethnicity, gender, and other demographic details in the images that advertisers use in their adverts. If a job ad includes a picture of a white person, for instance, black people are less likely to view it.
Additionally, as the NTIA notes, identity theft has become an ongoing issue due to the free-floating nature of personal information on the internet. Because of the time and money required to address its effects, identity theft can be particularly hard for low-income individuals and families.
The latest inquiry supports President Biden’s tougher stance on technology regulation. In a recent op-ed, the President urged Congress to unite and approve measures to control big tech.
After three listening sessions with specialists examining the connections between the internet business and privacy issues, equity, and civil rights, a new investigation began.
The NTIA has announced that it will include feedback in a new report on how data affects inequality and discrimination. The administration will provide recommendations for new policies and offer advice on how resources might be used to better address these problems.