Obama Backs 'Consumer Bill of Rights' for Online Privacy

The White House embraces browser-based do-not-track tools. FTC will gain enforcement authority as Commerce Department convenes stakeholders (including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo) to develop a voluntary codes of conduct. Center for Digital Democracy, however, calls for legislation.

By Kenneth Corbin
Thu, February 23, 2012

CIO — Alarmed that the varied and often murky ways that Internet businesses collect, use and share information about consumers' online activities, the White House today issued a blueprint for strengthening online privacy, including a so-called consumer bill of rights and commitments from leading industry players to adhere to a set of best practices, including a do-not-track tool embedded within the major Web browsers.

"American consumers can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy."

Along with the White House's privacy framework, the Digital Advertising Alliance, a coalition of several of the leading marketing and advertising trade associations, announced that it will begin evaluating browser-based tools to enable consumers to stipulate their privacy preferences, which would apply across the organization's participating member companies.

Don't Track Me, Bro'

The browser-based opt-out, familiarly known as a "do-not-track" mechanism (a term the Digital Advertising Alliance does not use), was envisioned by the Federal Trade Commission as a tool for consumers to exercise choice over the ways in which they are marketed to in much the same fashion as the popular Do-Not-Call registry that restricts the activities of telemarketers.

According to the White House, leading online ad networks and content and service providers such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, which collectively account for some 90 percent of all behaviorally targeted ads served on the Web, have agreed to comply with the do-not-track preferences that consumers express. What's more, that commitment will subject those companies to FTC enforcement.

Officials also praised the Digital Advertising Alliance member companies for agreeing to limit the scope of their data sharing to advertising, a commitment meant to ensure that information about people's Internet habits would not find its way into the hands unscrupulous data brokers, where it might be used to determine a loan applicant's credit worthiness or inform underwriting decisions about a health or life insurance policy, for example.

"It's great to see that companies are stepping up to our challenge to protect privacy so consumers have greater choice and control over how they are tracked online," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. "More needs to be done, but the work they have done so far is very encouraging."

Consumer Bill of Rights and an Eye Toward Congress

A centerpiece of today's news is the consumer bill of rights that outlines a set of principles providing for transparency, security and other safeguards to give consumers more control over their information and confidence that it is being used with sufficient deference to privacy considerations.

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