FTC Prompts Congress to Enact Online Privacy Regulations

FTC Prompts Congress to Enact Online Privacy Regulations

The Federal Trade Commission, the government’s chief privacy policy and consumer protection agency, announced it is calling on Congress to enact legislation to regulate data brokers.

The FTC report, "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: Recommendations for Businesses and Policymakers," presents “best practices” for businesses that collect and trade data on American consumers. The practices would allow consumers to access the data collected on them, as well as make changes and updates.

“Some argue for new, invasive laws and government mandates to protect our privacy. But why not use the consumer protection laws and sophisticated technologies currently at our disposal to exercise our freedom to protect our privacy?” said John Stephenson, director of the communications and technology task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonpartisan research institute that promotes limited government and is based in Washington DC.

‘Do Not Track’
The agency also recommended companies that collect data offer a “Do-Not-Track” option, which would allow consumers to opt-out of having their online behavior monitored and shared.

"We are confident that consumers will have an easy to use and effective do-not-track option by the end of the year because companies are moving forward expeditiously to make it happen and because lawmakers will want to enact legislation if they don't,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in the report.

The FTC recommendations are interpreted by Stephenson as a subtle threat to companies that if they don’t provide an opt-out option to consumers, Congress will do it for them. He said consumers already have some options that allow them to control privacy settings.

“Online companies understand that consumers are concerned about their privacy once they log on. These companies have responded by providing sophisticated, easy-to-use tools to prevent tracking, block spam, and delete the list of webpages you visit. A single click on my Facebook page reveals a menu of privacy controls. All it takes to find the privacy notice and many options on Microsoft’s Bing search engine is to scroll to the bottom of the page. Google even has how-to videos showing you how to adjust the privacy settings,” he said.

Experian Marketing Services spokesperson Matt Tatham said before the FTC report Experian was already providing customers with choices, complying with all applicable laws, and following established industry self-regulatory guidelines and procedures to safeguard consumer data. 

“Experian helps companies deliver more relevant, targeted marketing of their products and services across the Internet while vigorously safeguarding consumer privacy and providing consumers with a more relevant and rich online experience,” Tatham said.  

Alyssa Carducci (adcarducci@gmail.com) writes from Tampa, Florida.

Internet Info

"Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: Recommendations For Businesses and Policymakers," Federal Trade Commission, March 26, 2012: http://news.heartland.org/sites/default/files/ftc_privacy_report_3_26_12.pdf