Trends in Privacy

The issue of online privacy, especially when it comes to social networking sites, has been getting a lot of attention lately…

House of Representatives member Rick Boucher (Dem, Va.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, and Rep. Cliff Stearns (Republican, Fla.) released a draft of a new bill to lay down privacy guidelines governing how companies collect and utilize users’ personal information…

The measure has been more than a year in the making, and would require full disclosure of privacy practices, outlaw the sharing of info to third parties without expressed permission and establish mechanisms within the FTC to implement and enforce the new rules.

The bill stops short of requiring ad targeting systems to seek consent for basic tracking and targeting practices through the use of cookies, although “sensitive” information including medical records, financial records, government-issued data and geographic location information would require opt-in consent.

The law requires a level of consumer diligence—you know, people concerned with their own Web privacy will have to be on the lookout for publishers privacy policies, which must be “clearly-written… understandable.”

Boucher told the media,  “Our legislation confers privacy rights on individuals, informing them of the personal information that is collected and shared about them and giving them greater control over the collection, use and sharing of that information.”

So, if individuals don’t want information collected about themselves, they need to take action—unless that information is of highly sensitive nature, like medical records or social security numbers.

As a general rule, companies may collect information about individuals unless an individual affirmatively opts out of that collection, reads the draft.

That rule applies to individual publishers, as well as third parties like networks and ad-serving companies. However, the bill draws the line at sharing data without permission with what it calls “unaffiliated parties.”

From the draft:  An individual has a reasonable expectation that a company will not share that person’s information with unrelated third parties.

Those “unaffiliated parties” must receive consumers’ permission to acquire their data. It is unclear at this point whether that included data exchange companies like BlueKai and eXelate.

Reps. Boucher and Stearns appear to take pains to make sure that they came across as pro-data, calling Web logs (files) and cookies “necessary“ for the functioning of many commercial or ad-supported Web sites.

Boucher has stated previously that he recognizes the importance of data collection for the online advertising market and the ecommerce economy.

He said, “Our goal is to encourage greater levels of electronic commerce by providing to Internet users the assurance that their experience online will be more secure. Online advertising supports much of the commercial content, applications and services that are available on the Internet today without charge, and this legislation will not disrupt this well established and successful business model.”


[image courtesy of acot.edu]

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