And Now a Word from Our Regulator: The FTC issues a new report on privacy and pushes for more legislation
March 26, 2012
The Federal Trade Commission issued a report today addressing the privacy of consumers. In the report, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers,” the FTC pushes Congress for general privacy legislation, data breach notification legislation, and data broker legislation.
Taking a look at the report, it is clear that the FTC is concerned about a few key areas—namely, data brokers, transparency, and mobile applications. The report calls out data brokers for being in the business of buying and selling personal consumer information, claiming that they do so without a great deal of transparency or awareness as to how the process works or the purposes for which the information is used. In addition to calling for new legislation, the report recommends creating a centralized website where consumers could get information about their practices and “opt out” of data use. As for mobile technology, the FTC wants companies offering mobile apps to improve their privacy protections, including disclosures.
“Do Not Track” is still a key part of the FTC privacy strategy, but still missing in this report is any real guidance for a “Do Not Track” option for consumers—something that has been widely discussed but does not seem to be any closer to being defined or implemented. “DNT needs to mean ‘do not collect’, not just ‘advertise back,'” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC. “The industry recognizes that if a real DNT does not come to fruition by the end of the year, there will be a lot of support legislatively for DNT.”
That should be enough to motivate businesses–marketers in particular– to get on the stick to put DNT practices in place voluntarily. Anyone who transacts business on the web has reason to fear new legislation, increased regulation of the internet and the unintended consequences that inevitably get rolled up into the process.
The vote approving the report was 3-1. Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch dissented from the issuance of the Final Privacy Report. His concerns: 1) in contravention of our promises to Congress, it is based on “unfairness” rather than deception; 2) the current state of “Do Not Track” still leaves unanswered many important questions; 3) “opt-in” will necessarily be selected as the de facto method of consumer choice for a wide swath of entities; and 4) although characterized as only “best practices,” the Report’s recommendations may be construed as federal requirements.
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