In the U.S., the push for granting consumers greater visibility and control of their personal online data has been going strong for a few years now. One of the key organizations behind this push is the Federal Trade Commission. They published recommendations for businesses and policy makers about how to protect consumer privacy in a March 2012 report. In it, the FTC noted enforced legal actions taken against some of the most notable online media companies in the world like Google and Facebook, in addition to other online advertising networks, mobile application developers and data security companies that failed to abide by privacy best practices. The FTC has also actively proposed pro-privacy legislation to various federal agencies, promoted privacy education to include a dedicate OnGuardOnline.gov portal, as well as continuing to push for a standard and default Do Not Track web protocol.
Some of the initiatives from the 2012 report as they relate to online data collection still resonate and continue to this day, and include:
Do Not Track
The browser vendors have developed tools that consumers can use to signal that they do not want to be tracked; the Digital Advertising Alliance (“DAA”) has developed its own icon-based tool and has committed to honor the browser tools; and the World Wide Web Consortium (“W3C”) has made substantial progress in creating an international standard for Do Not Track.
The Commission called on companies providing mobile services to work toward improved privacy protections, including the development of short, meaningful disclosures. As part of this project, [FTC] staff hosted a workshop that addressed, among other issues, mobile privacy disclosures and how these disclosures could be short, effective, and accessible to consumers on small screens.
To address the invisibility of, and consumers’ lack of control over, data brokers’ collection and use of consumer information, the Commission supports targeted legislation that would provide consumers with access to information about them held by a data broker. To further increase transparency, the Commission calls on data brokers that compile data for marketing purposes to explore creating a centralized website where data brokers could (1) identify themselves to consumers and describe how they collect and use consumer data and (2) detail the access rights and other choices they provide with respect to the consumer data they maintain.
As people continue depending more on mobile devices, web ready TVs, web connected cars and other Internet-enabled electronic gadgets for entertainment or to help keep their lives organized, the collection of personal information and the tracking of online behavior will become more granular. Obviously, there are many challenges to overcome in working towards this goal and the pace is at a crawl.
For starters, the amount of data collected is growing at an accelerated rate. It has been a challenge to keep pace with and make sense of big data so far, and this is unlikely to get any easier. Do Not Track may seem like a right every consumer should have, there is still the matter of public data that may not be impacted by future privacy legislation. Plus, implementing a single Do Not Track standard is very difficult. There are simply too many devices, manufacturers, operating systems and software to account for. Lastly, a dedicated website that allows consumers to assess, edit or opt-out of data collection will have to overcome serious security challenges, a daunting task considering how sophisticated Web threats have become.
Do you feel the industry is moving in the right direction? Do you agree that data collection reform should and will grant consumers more direct control of their personal online information? We’d love to hear from you.