April 21, 2018 / 12:09 AM / in 4 months

Acxiom CEO says data industry bracing for regulation

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Companies that buy and sell consumer data are preparing for increased scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers after a scandal over how social network Facebook handles personal information, Acxiom Corp’s chief executive said on Friday.

Scott Howe told Reuters in a phone interview that Acxiom, among the largest U.S. data brokers, welcomed change and supported regulation of some kind, although he stopped short of endorsing a specific plan or greater powers for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the primary U.S. regulator of data privacy.

Facebook Inc, which uses personal data to sell targeted ads but does not sell data, caused an uproar last month when it said political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, whose clients have included President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, had wrongly harvested the information of millions of users.

Acxiom and competitors such as Experian PLC were indirectly affected by the Cambridge Analytica scandal when, shortly after it broke, Facebook said it would discontinue one of its advertising tools powered by third-party data in an effort to be more careful about privacy.

Acxiom shares plunged as much as 34 percent the day after Facebook’s announcement on March 28. They have since partially recovered.

“Facebook has done a credit to the entire industry because they brought this back out into the public spotlight,” Howe said.

He said he had traveled to Washington to meet regulators and would continue to do so, and that industry executives were speaking more frequently among themselves about regulations.

“This isn’t an area that perhaps most companies or most legislators have thought a tremendous amount about,” Howe said.

Data brokers faced the prospect of tougher U.S. oversight in 2014, after the FTC in a report called for legislation that would enable consumers to more easily learn how data brokers use their data, correct it or opt out of the process.

No such legislation passed.

On Thursday, Howe published a list of principles on a corporate blog that he thinks any new legislation should follow. He did not endorse a specific bill.

Asked about the FTC, he said in the interview: “I think the FTC has an important role to play here, and how that evolves, I’m not sure.”

Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Tom Brown

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