FTC online privacy proposals slammed by activists

Chris Davies - Mar 27, 2012
FTC online privacy proposals slammed by activists

Privacy advocates have slammed the new FTC “Do Not Track” guidelines, arguing that the proposed system for ensuring online data security fails to take advantage of existing authority and relies too muhc on self-regulation of the online industry. The new framework “mistakenly endorses self-regulation and ‘notice and choice,'” the Electronic Privacy Information Center claims, “and fails to explain why it has not used its current Section 5 authority to better safeguard the interests of consumers.”

In fact, EPIC suggests, “the framework is not as extensive as the White House Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” announced back in February. That already made provision for “Do Not Track” technology, with Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AOL – together responsible for almost 90-percent of behavioral advertising – already opting in.

Section 5 is the part of existing legislation which grants the FTC its power to investigate and prevent deceptive trade practices. The states that “unfair methods of competition in or affecting commerce, and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce, are hereby declared unlawful.”

However, the new FTC document, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: Recommendations For Businesses and Policymakers”, only namechecks existing tools in development. “Browser vendors have developed tools to allow consumers to limit data collection about them,” the FTC points out, “the Digital Advertising Alliance has developed its own icon-based system and also committed to honor the browser tools, and the World Wide Web Consortium standards-setting body is developing standards. The Commission will work with these groups to complete implementation of an easy-to-use, persistent, and effective Do Not Track system.”

EPIC’s concern is that not only will making the policies optional give companies wiggle-room to escape their privacy obligations, but it will also let the FTC itself off the hook for investigating complaints and using the full extent of its legal powers. “The FTC has not take any action against Facebook in response to any privacy complaint” the organization wrote in February on the topic. “It is a remarkable abdication of consumer protection authority, possibly unparalleled in the history of the Federal Trade Commission.”

The “Do Not Track” system – which also impacts on mobile internet and app use – is expected to be operational by winter 2012.

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