Today, government agencies, congress, and big name tech firms are releasing their latest project to protect users’ online privacy.
We’ve been talking a lot recently about privacy on this blog. In part, lots of big name tech firms are starting to either get in trouble for violating users’ privacy, but also because it’s just becoming a growing concern for the general public as everything online and even in our daily lives becomes more integrated.
Another reason online privacy has been in the news a lot recently has been the surprising interest that the government has taken in users’ right to privacy. And today illustrates that last point perfectly; the Obama administration is announcing the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights today.
The president and his cabinet have been working with congress and the biggest tech companies in the nation to come up with a piece of legislation that will ensure that users have privacy online. Many speculate that this has become a focus due to the recent missteps that huge companies like Facebook and Google have made recently, in regards to respecting users’ privacy.
To a larger degree, the spike in mobile device usage in the past few years has also created concern from the government about how Internet companies have the potential to track physical things about online users (like physical location, real life contacts, and more).
Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL have committed to implement a Do Not Track code in their software and services so that Internet companies in general have a harder time tracking users’ activity online. The bill itself is attempting to grant users the right to control what data is collected about them, how that data is used and shared, and even to control what context the data is collected and shared in.
For example, if a game says it’s going to collect names from your address book to email those people and invite them to play the game too, under the new bill, that game cannot subscribe those names to a company email list that regularly sends out news about the company. The bill also aims to make a clearer acknowledgement of who is actually holding user data, how securely it’s being stored, and who is responsible if that data gets misused.
To be more specific, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has been heading up this bill. The group has been meeting with Internet companies and consumer advocacy groups to reach a place where the bill’s expectations are amenable to all involved parties. To make sure that these Internet companies still have reasonable wiggle room to see what users are doing and innovate products, a Federal Trade Commission enforcement is allowing companies “flexibility necessary for continuing innovation.”
Although the news is recent, reports say that the bill has actually been in the works for the past two years. In an effort to make sure all sides are fairly represented, industry, privacy advocates, academics and enforcement agencies were all consulted during the drafting of the bill. Despite the administration’s best efforts, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) points out that while the bill calls for strong enforcement, it’s made no mention specifics to make sure enforcement actually happens.
The news conference is happening in just a few minutes, at noon ET. To read the bill in full, check out this CNET article.