FTC Report Pushes Companies, Congress To Improve Online Privacy

Earlier today, the Federal Trade Commission released the results of its two-year look into what needs to be done about protecting the privacy of American consumers. It all seems to make good sense, but will anyone actually follow the FTC’s recommendations?

The FTC report [PDF] calls for increased online privacy protections and oversight, including a renewed call for a “do not track” tool to tell marketers to stop tracking your Internet browsing.

The commission sets forth a number of recommendations for how companies that handle consumer data can make that information more secure:

Privacy by Design – companies should build in consumers’ privacy protections at every stage in developing their products. These include reasonable security for consumer data, limited collection and retention of such data, and reasonable procedures to promote data accuracy;
Simplified Choice for Businesses and Consumers – companies should give consumers the option to decide what information is shared about them, and with whom. This should include a Do-Not-Track mechanism that would provide a simple, easy way for consumers to control the tracking of their online activities.
Greater Transparency – companies should disclose details about their collection and use of consumers’ information, and provide consumers access to the data collected about them.

“This is a good report that reflects the growing concerns about online privacy among consumers, especially the fact that we need better tools and information to decide how our personal information is used,” explains Ioana Rusu, regulatory counsel for Consumers Union. “When we talk about online privacy, we’re talking about trust. A company needs customers to trust that their personal information is going to be treated with respect. If you don’t trust that a company is going to use your information responsibly, you’re going to be much less likely to adopt new services, and that hurts innovation.”

The report also urges Congress to take up baseline privacy legislation.

“There are a lot of good initiatives in play that could help protect consumers’ privacy, but ideally, we need a law to make sure everyone is playing by the same rules,” says Rusu.

With the market for mobile apps exploding, the FTC says it will host a workshop on May 30 to address how mobile privacy disclosures can be “short, effective, and accessible to consumers on small screens.”

Rusu applauds this move, saying, “We clearly need to spell out the limits on the treasure trove of data that’s being collected by these apps.”

Comments

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  1. Cat says:

    Will anyone actually follow the FTC’s recommendations?

    No, because they’re “recommendations”.

    • Lyn Torden says:

      That’s why, in so many cases, recommendations end up becoming law. If at least some (preferrably half) of business will follow the recommendations and commit to doing so forever, then we would have no need for this to become law.

      • ARP says:

        Which is why I don’t have a lot of sympathy for some of the we’re over-regulated whining. Most of the time, the agency, puts a voluntary or self-regulatory scheme in place. Nobody follows it and so then it becomes law. If companies actually did the right thing, it often wouldn’t be needed.

      • ARP says:

        Which is why I don’t have a lot of sympathy for some of the we’re over-regulated whining. Most of the time, the agency, puts a voluntary or self-regulatory scheme in place. Nobody follows it and so then it becomes law. If companies actually did the right thing, it often wouldn’t be needed.

  2. Maz says:

    You’ve a right to privacy. Unless you’re into piracy. Then we turn Brother Eye upon thee.

  3. Lyn Torden says:

    “Do Not Track” should be the default. Provide an option “OK to track me to optimize the advertising to be just what I want”.

  4. AllanG54 says:

    Right, but the government can invade one’s internet privacy all they want. Without a warrant, without probably cause. Hell, I’ll probably be on someone’s watch list just for entering this comment.

  5. Jawaka says:

    As I said in the other story, if a company is providing a service to me for free then I don’t really feel that I have a right to complain if they build a customer profile on me based on my browsing habits. I mean come on, nothing is really free. They have to make revenue some how to pay for the service. However, this is only as long as the company has a clear and easy to understand privacy policy notifying me as to what information they store. As long as they do this then the ball is in our court. We have the option to continue to use the service knowing what they track or we decide to not use the service any more.