By Chris Mills Rodrigo
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are teaming up to pressure regulators to protect survivors of domestic abuse by addressing how their private information is publicized on people-search sites.
In a letter sent to acting Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter on Thursday, the two senators said sites that compile personal data about individuals — phone numbers, emails and physical addresses — can make it more difficult for victims to escape dangerous situations.
Victims “often are forced to relocate to a relative’s house to find safety,” Klobuchar and Murkowski wrote in the letter first shared with The Hill. “The availability of this data makes it difficult or impossible for victims to safely relocate with relatives.”
People-search sites, such as WhitePages, MyLife or Spokeo, scrape publicly available information from records and the web, compile profiles using that data and then sell them. They can often aggregate a large amount of data, including criminal records, financial records and family member addresses, that would otherwise be difficult for an individual to find.
The senators highlighted how the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the need to address these sites because it has made it more difficult for victims to relocate.
"One in four women and one in nine men experience intimate partner violence," they wrote.
The letter asks the FTC whether more resources would help protect victims of domestic violence and whether the agency is taking steps to ensure data brokers are not collecting info from vulnerable groups.
“While we appreciate your efforts to highlight the critical need for increased consumer privacy and how open data and hacking can further victimization, we believe additional measures to protect personal data should be taken to ensure the privacy of victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking and to make it easier for them to remove their information from data broker sites,” wrote Murkowski and Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights.
Getting personal information removed from people-search sites can be a daunting task. Requests for removal typically require submitting personal data via physical letters or even faxes.
The number of sites can also make removing potentially damaging information a time-consuming effort. A list maintained by Yael Grauer of Consumer Reports provides information on about 40 people-search sites with opt-out links.
There are also services that can remove personal data from people-search sites, but at a cost of close to $100 a year.