Internet ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’ Poses Business Threats

Internet ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’ Poses Business Threats

An Internet “privacy bill of rights” currently before the U.S. Senate has raised concerns from Internet firms that such a law could dent their advertising-driven business models.

The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, introduced April 12 by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ), broadly follows recommendations published last December by the U.S. Department of Commerce. These recommendations called for stricter limits on what Internet companies can do with the information they collect from consumers.

Browsers Can Block Tracking
The Obama administration announced its intent to collaborate with Congress on a “privacy bill of rights” in mid-March. If passed, the new law would likely come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission.

Under the bill, firms must implement security measures to protect data collected from end users, disclose the methods they employ for the gathering of consumer information, and allow Internet users to opt-out of information collection.

Opponents of the bill say Internet companies rely on tracking and targeting consumers, and they argue the companies should be allowed to self-regulate rather than surrendering such authority to a government agency. Supporters of the bill claim it would grant consumers greater control over how their information is collected and used by digital marketers.

The online-advertising industry is attempting to convince policymakers that it can police itself using systems such as icons on Web pages that show surfers when they are being tracked. For example, Microsoft and Mozilla recently included do-not-track features in new versions of their respective Web browsers, Internet Explorer and Firefox.

‘Creates Barriers of Entry’
Market freedom advocates such as Pablo Solomon, an independent artist and designer based in Austin, Texas, would rather see more of this type of market-led self-policing than government involvement. “I want the government out of my pocket and out of my business,” he said.

John Bambenek, chief forensic examiner for Bambenek Consulting in Boston, Massachusetts, agrees, saying the government doesn’t have the technological knowledge necessary to create efficient rules over Internet privacy.

“As with net neutrality, Congress and the federal bureaucracies have shown themselves profoundly tech-unsavvy, where [their enforcement measures] profoundly break things,” Bambenek said. “Advertiser-driven models enable Web 2.0 to exist. Without it, there would be no Google or Facebook. But history has shown those regulations would benefit the biggest abusers like Google and Facebook and simply create a high barrier of entry for the ‘little guy.’”

Bambenek notes the issue could be resolved without legislation. Companies are increasingly disclosing what they do with users’ data and allowing users to share whatever they are comfortable with. The government should let the marketplace sort it out, he said.

Phil Britt (spenterprises@wowway.com) writes from South Holland, Illinois.

Internet Info

“The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011,” Senators John Kerry and John McCain, April 2011: http://www.heartland.org/infotech-news.org/article/29876/Commercial_Privacy_Bill_of_Rights_Act_of_2011.html