The Obama administration wants a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that could give consumers more autonomy over how their personal information is collected online. But creating online protections for consumers will require congressional approval and cooperation from Internet companies.
The online privacy initiative was announced Feb. 23, but details of the plan are sketchy. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will meet with consumer advocates and Internet companies to hammer out the protections. The White House didn’t say when those meetings would start.
The Obama administration says the guidelines should include clearly worded privacy policies, more control for consumers over the data that companies collect or share and an opportunity for consumers to correct erroneous information.
However, one online privacy expert tells Consumers Digest that getting Internet companies to agree to a policy that truly benefits consumers could be a challenge.
“If a bill is proposed that contains so many limitations and loopholes that it doesn’t really change “business as usual” now, that will not represent real progress” for consumers, says Susan Grant, who is the Director of Consumer Protection at the Consumer Federation of America. “I am sure that this is what some [Internet] companies will push for, but more far-sighted companies will recognize the benefits of strong legal rules of the road.”
On Feb. 24, The Wall Street Journal reported that the nation’s largest Internet companies already have agreed to embed a “no-tracking” button on their Web browsers. The report says the “no tracking” feature would reduce the amount of consumer information that Internet companies can share with third parties, yet Internet companies still would be allowed to track and share much of your online footprint.
Internet companies have been reluctant to adopt the “no-tracking” policy, The Wall Street Journal story says. As a result, Consumers Digest believes that it’s fair to assume that the same companies will be reluctant to support an online-privacy bill that favors consumers more than it would Internet companies.
If Congress were to pass an online-privacy law—and there’s no indication of how long that that might take or whether it would happen at all—it likely would be Federal Trade Commission's responsibility to enforce it.