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The Privacy Party and Leaving Dishes in the Sink

Steve DelBianco

Boy, that was a great party the White House threw yesterday when their new online privacy rights were unwrapped and passed around.

Most everyone hefted their shiny new rights, agreed they were nice, and talked about the need for swift adoption. But when the party was done, everyone filed out, turning a blind eye to the post-party cleanup and a sink full of dirty dishes.

In this case, the dirty dishes aren't baked-on casserole pans. What's left in the sink is the messy "multi-stakeholder" process that will decide the details about how to implement and enforce these new privacy rights.

We enjoyed the party, too. And we can get behind the Administration's goals to give consumers more transparency, control, and confidence about how their online data is used and secured. All these ideas are good ways to foster consumer trust while also allowing for companies to deliver new, free services that are paid for with relevant online ads.

It's also good to see the Administration's emphasis on self-regulation and compliance. We need to remember, however, that data we're talking about is not sensitive information like medical or financial records, but marketing data that have been collected by offline businesses for decades.

For example, if you buy camping gear, you probably receive camping catalogues. If you're expecting a baby you can anticipate free trial offers to Parenting magazine. Keeping the subject matter of these privacy rights in mind is critically important as we move forward.

Now, back to those dirty dishes in the sink.

While new consumer rights are fine, the Administration did not define what would trigger a violation of these rights. That difficult task was pushed-off to a future set of meetings that will include companies and advocates from the privacy industry.

We've written before about the privacy industry's zeal to annihilate the ad-based business model that pays for all those free online services. Online companies should push back hard to make sure that reasonable and responsible triggers are developed. They'll also need to cut through the inevitable hyperbole to ensure that the FTC does not end up with a new law that enshrines its right to regulate non-personal data.

These multi-stakeholder meetings are the perfect opportunity for privacy zealots to codify regulations that drive a stake in the heart of current and future web service innovation.

Doing the dishes is never fun, but that's how you make sure you're ready for the next party. For the future health of Internet innovation, we need to make sure we all pitch-in to do these dishes right.

By Steve DelBianco, Executive Director at NetChoice
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Share your comments

Whois? Kevin Murphy  –  Feb 24, 2012 11:04 AM PDT

Ad-tracking aside, I'd be fascinated to hear opinions on how this could affect rights to Whois privacy.

On a skim-reading, this new bill of rights could be read as endorsing the privacy services so beloved of criminals and Congressmen, but it also seems to endorse the idea that consumers have the "right" to keep their personal information up-to-date and accurate. I'm confused.

I don't see this as killing "ad supported" Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Mar 05, 2012 5:51 AM PDT

It should certainly put a dent into, for example, lead gen, coreg, and other delivery mechanisms that range from a gray area in permission to out and out unsolicited.

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