FTC to Examine Effects of Big Data on Low Income and Underserved Consumers at September Workshop #00050

Submission Number:
Dan Burley
Initiative Name:
FTC to Examine Effects of Big Data on Low Income and Underserved Consumers at September Workshop
Matter Number:


In last month's Big Data talk, the issue of "data poverty" came up, as discussed in Daniel Castro's paper about "data deserts." One of the issues discussed extensively by Nicol Turner-Lee was thirty million offline people without digital readiness. The internet has given rise to a new more efficient, responsive, and robust economy, albeit one that is only accessible to those with computers or smartphones. Those without access may continue participating in the brick-and-mortar economy, but they are unable to participate in or even become aware of the features of the digital economy. In essence there are two "separate but equal" economies existing side-by-side, and only those with digital access may participate in both. When companies leverage the internet to smooth their business model, they often offer incentives to use their new "web-only" economy. Mass transit is a prominent example. You can buy a Greyhound bus ticket from Reno, NV to Oakland, CA for $6, but only if you have internet access. If you are unaware of this "web-only" deal, then you pay $42 cash at the ticket counter. This illustrates perfectly Nicole Turner-Lee's point that not including offline people in the digital economy actively disadvantages them. Generally speaking, digitally literate and enabled riders can better afford the $42 fare than unconnected riders, who are generally poorer, older, and isolated. I call on the FTC to make sincere efferts to not only reach out to the digitally unconnected, but also to ameliorate their disadvantage. A seven-fold difference in fares is unconscionable when your most vulnerable customers are completely unable to take advantage of a web-only workflow. A possible solution to this situation would be the presence of a free web kiosk in the lobby of any company that offered web-only fares, as well as assistance for the uninitiated inusing the device. As digital literacy spreads, such solutions will hopefully become quaint and obsolete, but it may take an entire generation for that to happen.