Walmart favors 'reasonable controls' over collection and use of personal data

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By Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Walmart Inc (N:) for the first time on Wednesday revealed the breadth of customer information it collects as it came out in favor of consumers having “reasonable controls” with regard to collection, use and sharing of personal data.

The world’s largest retailer said shoppers should have an opportunity to “reasonably access, correct or delete their data while limiting the sale of their data to third parties and its use in digital advertising,” as it testified at a hearing by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The hearing, which was also attended by companies like Microsoft (O:), was convened to examine various legislative proposals to protect consumer data privacy.

More than a dozen privacy bills have been introduced in Congress and concerns have mounted over how information is being collected and used especially by big tech companies.

Walmart said in its testimony it supports a comprehensive federal privacy law and is ready to comply with strict new privacy rules California plans to instate on Jan. 1.

Nuala O’Connor, senior vice president and chief counsel of digital citizenship at Walmart, said privacy legislation focused on a particular industry – referring to the U.S. tech sector – must be carefully crafted to avoid unintended effects on retail.

Walmart said it collects myriad different forms of customer data including personal information provided directly by consumers, personal information provided by third parties, purchase history, healthcare data, browsing information, device information and location data.

The company said it sells or rents individually identifiable customer data to third parties for business activities including fulfilling customer orders and processing payments. Also, some of Walmart’s recent acquisitions share customer information with other companies, it said.

Earlier this week, a draft consumer privacy bill from Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the Commerce Committee, proposed nationwide rules for handling of personal information online and elsewhere and would override state laws.

That followed a privacy bill introduced by the top Democrat on the committee, Maria Cantwell.

A U.S. online privacy bill is not likely to come before Congress this year, Reuters reported in September, as lawmakers disagree over several issues.

Democrats like Cantwell are determined not to sign a privacy bill that would pre-empt state laws, while Republicans appear equally determined to avoid a patchwork of state measures. The two parties also disagree over whether individuals would have the right to sue for violation of privacy under the law.

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