'Who owns my data?' Former Equifax CEO skirts the question

October 04, 2017 08:44 PM

Former Chairman and CEO of Equifax Rick Smith was in the hot seat again Wednesday facing a barrage of questions from members of Congress.

A question that was asked during Tuesday’s hearing dominated the discussion Wednesday at the Senate Banking Committee hearing: “Who owns your data?”  It’s your name, your social security number, your credit cards. Who owns that sensitive information?

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The question was first raised on Tuesday’s House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing when Representative Doris Matsui, a Democrat from California asked: “If data that you hold is about me, do I own it?"

Smith sat in silence for a moment before the committee.

Representative Matsui asked again, “Do I own my data?"

Smith appeared stumped. He asked quietly: “Can you repeat the question?" She repeated the question for a third time. Finally he produced a non-answer.

"Congresswoman, we are part of a federally-regulated ecosystem that's been around for a long time," he said in a meandering monologue about the current relationship between the credit rating agencies, lenders and consumers. But he clearly did not answer the question. So she tried again.

"Can you explain what makes data about me mine, compared to what makes it someone else's," Matsui asked.

Again he didn’t answer the central question - Do I own my data? Instead he told the committee about a product Equifax will unveil in January that allows consumers to lock and unlock access to your data for free.

"So at that point and time, I can say I own my data?” Matsui asked.

“You'll have the ability to control who accesses and when they access your data," Smith answered. But he did not answer the question of who owns and controls your sensitive information. Senators continued to explore that issue during Wednesday’s Senate Banking Committee hearing.

“Do you think we need to change the consumer reporting industry in this country to give Americans more control of the data?” asked Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio. “For example, should they be allowed to request that you delete the data from your systems?"

"We provide a great service to the consumer allowing them to get access to credit,” Smith said without answering the question. He explained that credit rating agencies provide lenders with your data. Without the credit rating agencies, you, the consumer, can't get credit. He again promoted Equifax’s credit lock option. So Brown asked again.

"Should consumers be allowed to request that you delete their data from your system - their data that you gather without their knowledge?” Brown asked.

“I believe a better way to get at that is through this lock concept,” said Smith.

“So that means no?” Brown persisted.

“Correct," Smith finally conceded.

Finally an answer.  But Smith’s answer bought the hearing full circle to the same question.

"Who owns this data?” asked Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia. “How do you get the right to this data that's our personal information and yet your company's practices of cyber hygiene are sloppy in the extreme?"

While no one was able to answer the question of who owns your data, there are bills being considered in the U.S. House and Senate that would give consumers more control over access to your data.

If passed, you could freeze and unfreeze your credit for free. Consumer advocates say a freeze is better than a lock because a credit freeze is legally binding. A credit lock is not.  

It’s your money. Do you want to weigh in?  Contact congressional leaders who represent you. 

Rep. Chris Collins R-NY 27th District
Rep. Louise Slaughter D-NY 25th District
Sen. Chuck Schumer D-NY
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand D-NY


Deanna Dewberry

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