The use, and potential abuse, of Big Data remains a key concern of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the chief regulator of the survey, opinion and marketing research profession in the U.S.

“We are doing what we can to open the black box and shine a light on big data practices,” commented Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. A Katy on the Hill report covered Rich's address and how the agency is developing a report on possible discriminatory practices in Big Data analytics.

Rich warned that existing law may not properly "address biases that are introduced in the research that forms the basis of Big Data.” Katy on the Hill sensed skepticism on Rich's part that Congress would help empower the FTC to tackle the issue anytime soon, but it will clearly pose a problem for the research profession because the agency may have trouble discerning between marketing and marketing research.

The upcoming report will be based on last fall's FTC workshop on Big Data, which tried to explore, in the words of FTC Chairman Edith Ramirez, "whether and how big data helps to include or exclude certain consumers from full opportunity in the marketplace." It will also build on the FTC's 2014 report on data brokers.

As MRA told the FTC after the Big Data workshop, the agency's "continued focus on the practice of segmentation indicates that a key aspect of research is under misguided scrutiny," and that the denigration of analytical algorithms "through generalizations" was not helpful. We're still waiting for the FTC to identify specific harms from Big Data, instead of hypothetical scenarios, and propose specific solutions. Perhaps this forthcoming report will bring them.