Privacy has been all over the news recently, and not just because of the usual stories about Google and Facebook. Now the government has gotten involved.
From the White House’s announcement of a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in February to the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy recommendations a few days ago, it all points to one thing: the government is taking privacy, particularly online privacy, seriously.
Privacy is a hot topic at the Capital.
It’s nice to see. We’ve always thought privacy rights were important–we founded Abine on that premise and belief–so when the White House comes out and says that “strengthening consumer data privacy protections in the United States is an important Administration priority,” we’re pretty thrilled.
What should happen to your online privacy? The government wants public input.
Now that the government considers privacy a priority, they’ve asked for the public’s help in figuring out what steps they should take to actually protect it. Laws, codes of conduct, industry self-regulation…it’s all on the table. We weighed in with a public comment on what we’d like to see happen for privacy with extra detail in the areas we know best: online tracking and data brokers (AKA people search databases).
You can read our full comment here, but we’ll give you the summary:
- Most people don’t realize that we’re leaving a digital data trail in our wake, a path that builds up alarmingly detailed profiles aboutall of us. This widespread and largely unregulated collection, sharing, sale, and storage of massive amounts of consumer data are threats to privacy, particularly because most people are unaware of the existence—let alone the scope—of these invasive practices.
- We strive to offer technological solutions to these problems, but we believe that technology paired with regulation offers the greatest potential to spur significant, positive changes for consumer privacy.
- The FTC recommended that data brokers make a one-stop shop where people can (1) see what information these sites have about them, and (2) make sure it’s accurate. They also state that you should be able to remove your information if that site is selling it for marketing purposes. While we think this is a good step, we’d take it further and let people actually removetheir information. We think there’s an immediate need to enable this solution for higher-risk groups, including victims of domestic violence andcyberbullying and law enforcement officials. Lastly, it’s unclear what “marketing purposes” are, who would define this term, or who would enforce this exception.
- We commend the W3C standards committee for pioneering a universal standard for Do Not Track, and believe the header itself shows promise. We support the Digital Advertising Alliance’s continued work in defining and self-regulating compliance with theDo Not Track header, but believe there is still a gap between what the header does and what web users think it does. People expect Do Not Track to stop tracking, not simply stop targeted ads. We believe there should be better alignment between what the termmeans and what it does, as well as continued work to expand consumer privacy through the Do Not Track header.
We’re optimistic to see what happens in the future, but if you want to do something to protect your privacy right now, check out DoNotTrackPlus, a free tool to cut down on online tracking and data collection; DeleteMe, a paid service that removes your information from data broker websites; and our 5 simple tips you can start doing right now.
What do you think about the government’s pledge to protect privacy? What concerns you, and what would you change? This is a critical moment in history for digital privacy, so it’s more important than ever to speak up! Please leave your thoughts below.