Obama Administration Says “We Can’t Wait” for Privacy Protection
On February 23, 2012 the Obama Administration announced a “’Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights’ as part of a comprehensive blueprint to improve consumers’ privacy protections and ensure that the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth,” according to a White House press release. The purpose of the Privacy Bill of Rights is “to give users more control over how their personal information is used on the Internet and to help businesses maintain consumer trust and grow in the rapidly changing digital environment.” Input on effective privacy policies will be provided by companies, privacy advocates (consumers, presumably…is anyone not a privacy advocate?) and government agencies. Included in this initiative is a “Do Not Track” option, which is supported by most major Internet players, including the increasingly privacy-invading Google. Opting into the Do Not Track feature would prevent online advertisers from sharing consumers’ Internet behavior “for purposes other than advertising, such as employers making hiring decisions or insurers determining coverage.” However, not all websites will provide a Do Not Track option, and consumers will have to be informed that the option exists.
The privacy “blueprint” is outlined in a White House report called Consumer Data in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy.´ Consumers can presumably feel safe to browse the web with freedom, protection from exploitative Internet companies, and control over how their personal data is collected and used. Principles in the Privacy Bill of Rights include transparency, respect for context, security, access and accuracy, focused collection, and accountability.
The White House is taking a multi-stakeholder approach to establishing best practices and codes of conduct for consumer privacy. The multi-stakeholder approach is growing in popularity and presumably less rigid and more inclusive than traditional command-and-control lawmaking. However, DSLReports.com points out that the Privacy Bill of Rights “consists largely of a bunch of initiatives started by industry in the hops of pre-empting real privacy regulations.” It is unpredictable at this point if voluntary best practices and principles will be effective and sufficient to uphold consumer privacy on the web, or if specific laws will need to be adopted in the future. As with most things Internet, the problem with adopting rigid rules is that the Internet outgrows them before they are even implemented. So, in the case of consumer privacy protection, a dynamic set of voluntary guidelines may be better than either extreme—doing nothing or adopting overly restrictive, static rules.