People may be paying more for products based on their age or the color of their skin, White House officials fear.
Businesses are increasingly collecting vast amounts of data on consumer behavior and assembling detailed profiles on individuals. That data could lead companies — either intentionally or inadvertently — to discriminate against people in pricing, employment, housing, health care, or other opportunities, the White House said in a report Thursday.
John Podesta, a senior adviser to President Obama who led the "big data" review group that prepared the report, warned that new data-mining practices threaten to "circumvent long-standing civil-rights protections."
The report urges government agencies to improve their technical expertise so they can better spot and crack down on illegal discrimination that relies on data collection.
Firms can track which products people buy, the websites they browse, the emails they read, and even their GPS location. That information can help target more relevant ads — such as a promotion for a horror film.
But the White House pointed to one study which found that people who search for "black-identifying" names are more likely to be shown ads with the word "arrest" than people who search for "white-identifying" names. Government services aimed at people using smartphone apps could disadvantage the poor or elderly (who are less likely to have smartphones), the officials warned in the report.