FTC: Consumer Privacy System Is Broken

Citing lengthy privacy policies, confusing information about how personal data is used, and a lack of transparency in behavioral marketing campaigns, Maneesha Mithal of the Federal Trade Commission declared the current Internet consumer privacy system “broken,” and said the agency is working on a series of recommendations to help fix it.

At the Consumer Reports “Social Insecurity” event held earlier today in New York, Mithal cited a series of roundtables held over the past several months, where the FTC queried consumers about privacy issues. In the sessions, consumers expressed concerns about how their data is used by companies, and told the agency that — surprise — young people actually do care about their privacy.

Mithai suggested several ways to improve the current system, including providing privacy information directly in conjunction with online transactions (rather than just through long and confusing privacy policies). The FTC’s final recommendations are expected later this summer.

Exploring Privacy: A Roundtable Series [FTC]

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  1. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Yeah, so correct me if I’m wrong… the cohort that popularized MySpace and Facebook is the cohort that also popularized “TMI” as a common conversational gambit? No?

    Signed, An old, non-social-media-usingm dried up witch of 40 who no longer gets it.

    • KeithIrwin says:

      No, TMI is an older term. We were using that in high school in the 90s before any of us were on the internet. The next generation after us became the first ones to tether themselves to myspace.

  2. KyBash says:

    Unfortunately, “recommendations” are meaningless — they are an extra burden to honest companies, and companies like Facebook that care only about fast cash, people’s rights be damned, only pay them lip service.

    What we need is an ironclad law that every type of information a site acquires from its customers also be collected, and publicly displayed on the site, for every major stockholder, manager, and software engineer associated with the company.

  3. gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

    hey Meesha, no shit.
    Anyone who has used the internet for more than 5 minutes since 1997 could tell you this.
    now, instead of making “recommendations” and “suggesting” how the companies improve the system, make ultimatums – “unless you do suchandsuch, we will work towards the passage of a law that requires you to do suchandsuch”

    • golddog says:

      Consumers who know/care about such things in the last 15 years: Duh.

      Gstgein pretty well summed it up. Only thing I’d add is that Congress needs to give the FTC or FCC or whomever the teeth to give those ultimatums so what happened to Net Neutrality doesn’t happen to privacy.

  4. AngryK9 says:

    US Federal Agencies = Consortium of Captains Obvious

  5. Mr Fife says:

    Privacy is just an illusion. The government and the business world don’t think you need because it, interferes with profit potential. Besides, government only cares about two things (1) taxes and (2) control (spelled: power). Take a look at the British police/nanny state, to see America’s future.

    • stormbird says:

      They took Orwell’s 1984 as a blueprint. They’ve tried to pass laws requiring every ISP to send a copy of every email in or out of Britain to a central snooping depository. It was a nice country at one time.

  6. dragonfire81 says:

    Let me guess, they are going to create some fancy new government agency to deal with these privacy issues, because of course the government is the best solution to this kind of problem.

    • Kilawat12 says:

      Unless you know other agencies that can create laws to protect our privacy, then yes, yes they are, that is pretty much what they are there for, security of many kinds.

    • Griking says:

      Well who would you recommend oversee this? The companies themselves like it currently is?

      • Megalomania says:

        I would just think that making the “terms and conditions” you start out with stay that way would be enough. If you signed up for Facebook when it started, it was unequivocally private – only people who you specifically were connected to could see your info. Then the terms shifted to where it became “anyone who pays us can buy your info”.

        Similarly but worse as money changed hands would be the PS3 “Terms and Conditions” that apparently gives Sony the right to remove anything on the system that they marketed to you. Much like credit cards used to be (still are?), a contract where one party can change the terms at will is worthless to the other.

      • dreamfish says:

        Indeed. I get the impression that those of a libertarian persuasion (or similar) who think Government oversight of privacy is evil like to state that the obvious, simple solution is to have contractually bound privacy rules with companies and if you don’t like them, don’t buy from them (you might run out of vendors pretty quickly) or if the companies violate those rules, just take them to court (which as we all know is a trivially easy, quick and inexpensive route).

    • KeithIrwin says:

      Well, given that this is someone who works for the FTC, no, I suspect that they won’t want to create a new government agency. Rather they’ll probably try to address it with the FTC.

  7. stormbird says:

    The concern on the right end of the spectrum is twofold: the government can use this to clamp down and Big Brother the internet or cronyism will give advantages to the highest bidder. When you look at how Bush was beholden to Big Oil and Obama was beholden to Goldman Sacks ($1m in contributions, his former WH counsel works for them, his chief of staff used to work for them) it gets worrisome when the government says they can make sweeping changes without an actual law.

    I know, I know, I’ll put on my tinfoil hat and drink tea in the corner (no bags, thanks).

    • Covertghost says:

      You do realize, most of the presidents have had ties to GS.

      It isn’t something new.

  8. Bohemian says:

    Very simple make giving your personal information of any kind to any other party with the exception of processing a transaction illegal. If they hand over your info to process the transaction that third party can only use it for that and has to destroy it after the fact. How about this time making the penalties stiff including jail time for any person (including employees) involved.

  9. Covertghost says:

    You’re giving away your privacy for the social networking, and yet you’re disappointed when you don’t have it anymore…

    It’s a 2 way street, you want privacy, don’t enroll in these intrusive services.

    Either way, as long as we allow companies to profit off of our demographics and information, there will never be privacy.

  10. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    You said “Meesha” and “Mithai” when her name, according to the picture, is Maneesha Mithal. Failed on both first and last names. It’s not like the name is complicated like Julia Louis-Dreyfus.