Consumer Groups Claim Privacy Proposal Could Be 'Dominated by Industry'

By Ed Silverstein March 16, 2011

Proposed online privacy codes may end up being “dominated by industry” and run the risk of not protecting consumers if they are not set up “in a fair and balanced manner,” consumer groups charged.

The consumer groups also warn that the new proposal coming from the Obama administration shows the importance of “meaningful privacy legislation” having the Federal Trade Commission set up and administer a “Do Not Track Me” system, according to a press statement from Consumer Watchdog.

In recent testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling advocated “baseline privacy legislation.” It should be based on Fair Information Practices (FIPs) and provide a kind of bill of privacy rights, Strickling said. 

He added the rules should be written via “a process that includes stakeholders from the commercial, consumer advocacy and academic sectors, rather than a usual regulatory process,” reports Consumer Watchdog.

But Consumer Watchdog, The Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, U.S. PIRG and the World Privacy Forum issued a statement that said “industry has the resources to completely overwhelm consumers in this process.”

“The involvement of a multi-stakeholder process should inform, not replace, rulemaking,” the groups said.

The groups want:

--Consumer and business representation to be on equal footing if a multi-stakeholder process is used.

--Consumer representative approvals will be needed.

--Consumers need to choose their own representatives.

--Consumer representatives cannot be named or restricted by business or government organizations.

--Consumer organizations should get money for travel and other expenses, excluding staff support.

--Government agencies should not be able to vote but otherwise can take part in the process.

--Participants must establish their own rules and select a presiding officer.

--Not-for-profit organizations need to be independent of business, consumers, and government for purposes of “certifiers of accountability with codes of conduct.”

In a related matter, TechZone360 reported that David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said Congressional action would be needed to implement "Do Not Track Me" last December. Testifying at a Congressional hearing last year, Vladeck said a "Do Not Track Me" mechanism is "feasible and enforceable."

"Do Not Track Me is not a panacea, but it would offer clear easy-to-use privacy protection for consumers," John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Inside Google Project, said in a statement released in December and carried by TechZone360. "Congress should act immediately to give the FTC the necessary rule making and enforcement authority to implement it. It would be a win-win for consumers and businesses alike."

Ed Silverstein is a TechZone360 contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee

TechZone360 Contributor

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