November 10, 2010

Internet Companies Should Be More Accountable For User Data

Industry executives said on Tuesday that Internet companies need to be more accountable for the mass of personal data collected from users to guard against cyber crime. 

"Information is the currency of growth, but it's also increasingly become the currency of crime," Peter Cullen, chief privacy strategist for Microsoft Corp, said at the Family Online Safety Institute's annual conference.

"People have very high expectations when it comes to companies in terms of how they collect, use, store and most importantly protect their information," Cullen said.

He also said that companies must hold themselves to a higher standard when handling consumers' personal information and invest more in internal structures to ensure privacy.

Michael Fertik, the founder of the online reputation-management company ReputationDefender, said that there should be regulations that mandate an opt-in default to give consumers greater control of their "digital dossier."

"It's remarkable how deep the data sets are about each of us, and it's disturbing," Fertik told Reuters, citing websites that track users' locations.

Companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Microsoft collect personal data that is often used in advertising or passed on to third parties without users' knowledge.

Fertik advised regulators to put limits on how long companies can keep personal data on consumers, saying that over time the data may be used beyond advertising.

"Companies that make the bulk of their revenue in advertising have a very terrible tension between that economic incentive and your privacy interests," said Fertik, a member of the World Economic Forum Agenda Council on Internet Security.

The Commerce Department reported earlier this week that there was a seven-fold surge in high speed Internet subscribers between 2001 and 2009.

Mobile devices are also increasingly being used to access the Internet.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is preparing recommendations for privacy laws, and telecommunication analysts believe there will be bipartisan support on the issue.

Amy Mushahwar, a data privacy and security attorney at Reed Smith LLP, told Reuters that privacy was a "nonpolitical" issue that both Republicans and Democrats could agree upon in a divided Congress.

"This is a much less partisan issue that still has the potential for movement," she said.


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