Compliance Management, Privacy, Security Strategy, Plan, Budget

Obama introduces privacy “Bill of Rights” for online users

The Obama administration has released a modern-day Bill of Rights to address protecting web users' privacy rights and offering them more control of the information they share.

"As the internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy," President Obama said in a statement. "That's why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important. For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure."

The six rules, as described by the White House, are:

  • Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
  • Focused collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

The U.S. Department of Commerce next will work with some of the major internet companies to develop policies in line with the framework.

While organizations such as the Business Software Alliance praised the long-awaited guidelines -- European Union countries have enforced strict privacy laws for years -- the largest hurdle the White House proposal faces is the lack of teeth. Congress has yet to act on passing comprehensive web privacy legislation, but the administration pledged to work with lawmakers on codifying the Privacy Bill of Rights and making it enforceable.

The White House also said that the advertising industry has committed to not divulge consumer browsing information to companies that want to use the data in ways other than advertising, such when deciding whether to hire or insure someone.

In addition, the White House announced that a slew of high-profile internet firms, including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, have agreed to support do-not-track technology, which would prevent companies from collecting information about their web browsing activities, or else face Federal Trade Commission penalties.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said in a blog post that the internet giant is on board with the agreement.

"There's been a lot of debate over the last few years about personalization on the web," she wrote. "We believe that tailoring your web experience -- for example by showing you more relevant, interest-based ads, or making it easy to recommend stuff you like to friends -- is a good thing. We also believe that the best way to protect your privacy is to enable you to exercise choice through meaningful product controls. That said, given the number of different browsers and products available online today -- many of which have different privacy controls -- we recognize that it can get confusing."

Google is facing some pressure after it announced that it was folding privacy policies for each of its 60-some properties into a single rule.

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