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Privacy Group Hopes Hopes To Shape Policy

November 20, 2008

A newly-formed group of privacy experts are seeking to influence policy decisions of President-elect Barack Obama.

The Future of Privacy Forum sees the present time as the prime opportunity to shape policies and decisions on crucial privacy issues.

“Technology is advancing even more quickly than before with respect to data collection, data mining, and correlation of data across platforms, channels, devices and over time. The use of data is becoming increasingly practical and profitable,” the group said in a statement.

“We are at a vital crossroads for improving consumer control over online data,” said the Forum’s co-chairman Jules Polonetsky, who is also the former chief privacy officer for AOL.

“The Obama campaign used a lot of data in a tech savvy way so they fully appreciate the value of data for outreach and marketing and the need for best practices to ensure personal autonomy,” said Polonetsky.

He pointed to such practices as behavioral targeting, the use of RFID’s (radio frequency identity tags), mobile location devices and the sharing of information via social networking sites as areas of concern.

Pamela Jones Harbour, the commissioner of the US Federal Trade Commission, agreed that these were areas that needed to be closely monitored.

“As the use of these technologies increases, industry must step up efforts to ensure that consumers understand and are in control of their data, ” she said. “The creation of the Forum comes at a critical time and will play a leadership role in charting a path to improve online practices.”

The group cited several industry moves in the right direction. For instance, AT&T has committed to an affirmative consent model for behavioral targeting and other ISPs have joined in advocating that model. Yahoo Inc. is collaborating with eBay and Wal-Mart to label ads and expand user choices. Microsoft is adding new privacy features to Internet Explorer, and AOL has launched an educational effort around behavioral targeting.

“However, there is clearly much more that can be done to create a movement to put trust at the center of decisions about data use,” the group said.

“We believe that if dedicated technologists, policymakers, industry groups and advocates focus on advancing privacy in a manner that businesses can achieve, then privacy, profits and personalization are all possible.”

The Future of Privacy advisory board consists of industry members such as Dorothy Attwood, Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer of AT&T, Peter Cullen, Chief Privacy Strategist of Microsoft, Harriet Pearson, Chief Privacy Officer & VP Regulatory Policy of IBM and Zoe Strickland, Vice President, Chief Privacy Officer, Walmart.

The Forum’s views were echoed by Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

“We are moving on to a new chapter in privacy where users are starting to expect more control and talk about Web 2.0 vision of control.”

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