White House Unveils Online Privacy Bill Of Rights
February 23, 2012

White House Unveils Online Privacy Bill Of Rights

The Obama administration today unveiled a new online bill of rights intended to protect consumers´ privacy and protect their personal data when surfing the Web.

The measure has already received support from a number of top Internet and tech companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, which have pledged to provide more information on how data will be gathered and used before apps are downloaded.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights are a set of guidelines that would allow consumers to have more control over the types of data that companies collect. The White House worked with the companies involved to address mounting concerns over personal data collection online, but has also received criticism for not going far enough.

“American consumers can´t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online. As the internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That´s why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important,” said President Barack Obama, announcing the initiative.

“For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure. By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth,” he added.

The bill gives consumers the right to easily understandable information about privacy practices, and to access and correct that data in a usable format.

The White House, stating the policy stresses transparency, security, and user control of data, acknowledged that the framework was fairly weak, however. It would like Congress to step up and lay down stricter rules about what companies can do with customer data, but that´s not going to happen anytime soon.

So for now, the bill of rights will be a “comprehensive blueprint” for future legislation.

While it doesn´t put an end to companies´ use of consumer data overall, it is “a very important step forward,” Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), told reporters at a media conference Wednesday evening.

While the bill of rights remains voluntary, Leibowitz and Commerce Secretary John Bryson said they believe companies will be compelled to join the cause as a sign of good faith. For those who enroll, the FTC can enforce the bill´s provisions by taking punitive actions against violators.

The rapid increase of online fraud and confusion about tracking practices is what led the Obama administration to act. The privacy bill of rights first came into being about a year ago, but little progress has been made until now.

“We need this now,” said Bryson according to David Goldman of CNNMoneyTech . “It cannot wait.”

Companies who sign up for the voluntary measure are required to place reasonable limits on the amount and type of data they collect, use it in appropriate ways, and handle it securely.

The Commerce Department´s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) plan to discuss exactly how to implement the guidelines with enrolled companies, privacy advocates, tech experts, and others within the next few weeks.

Coinciding with the rollout of the privacy bill of rights, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) -- a group of advertising networks -- announced it is working to enhance its “Do Not Track” technology for most major Web browsers.

DAA represents about 90 percent of online advertisers, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL. Since the Do Not Track feature was implemented more than a year ago, participating advertisers have allowed users to opt out of online tracking by installing a special cookie on their computer.

But the Obama administration calls the current Do Not Track process complicated and confusing.

As a result, the DAA said today that it will push advertisers to use a simple “Do Not Track” browser button, that consumers can simply click on to opt out of being tracked from all advertisers across the Web. Do Not Track would also be enforced by the FTC.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter have all settled with the FTC over past privacy violations, and are under strict orders to avoid any future privacy encroachments.

Working separately, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said she reached an agreement with six top tech companies that will require software application developers to come up with a privacy policy.

She rold David Sarno and Jessica Guynn from the Los Angeles Times that the agreement requires the policy to be disclosed to smartphone users before they download the app. If app developers don´t comply, they can be prosecuted under the state´s consumer protection laws.

This marks the first time that California has made it clear that the rules for online privacy to apply to mobile apps, which have become pervasive as more and more people carry smartphones. Most mobile apps do not currently have a privacy policy, a violation of California law.

“This is a good-faith agreement between industry and government,” Harris told the LA Times reporters. “Once someone crosses that line, there is going to be a different response, which is going to be litigation and enforcement.”

Harris was also one of 36 attorneys general who sent a letter to Google on Wednesday objecting to the company´s upcoming policy change that would allow it to track users´ activity across various Google online products and services.

The National Association of Attorneys General said the policy change, scheduled to take effect March 1, invades consumer privacy by automatically sharing personal information that users give to one service across all of the services.

Many of the latest privacy concerns come as technology companies focus on smartphones as the next commercial frontier because they offer troves of personal data that can be collected.

“Consumers need new safeguards to ensure that their mobile data can´t be used without their express consent. Today, consumers are being stealthily eavesdropped when they use their mobile phones, with no limits on how their information can be collected or used,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the LA Times reporters.


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