The State of Online Consumer Privacy

March 16, 2011

Fran Maier

While I couldn’t be in Washington, D.C. today for the Senate Commerce’s Committee’s hearing on “The State of Online Consumer Privacy” (copies of hearing testimony here) I’ve been able to check in with a wide range of attendees and get perhaps more of a bird’s eye view. Key themes:

It’s all about Trust: Every panelist talked about the importance of trust to continue to reap the benefits of the Internet. Group M’s John Montgomery: “We want to build consumer trust in the online experience, and therefore we believe that consumers should be able to choose whether and how their data is collected or used for online behavioral advertising

Importance of Innovation: Intuit CPO Barbara Lawler: As we enter this important discussion, it is necessary to further emphasize the importance of both respect for the consumer participation and control of information and the value and benefit of continued innovation, in particular where the future of economic growth is going—data driven innovation. The key to our success and to ensuring balance among these interests is earning the customers trust.

Evolving definition of privacy: Microsoft’s Erich Andersen: “In the digital era, privacy is no longer about being ‘let alone.’ Privacy is about knowing what data is being collected and what is happening to it, having choices about how it is collected and used, and being confident that it is secure.” Note: I’d add “accountability” to the list too.

Technology + Policy + Self Regulation: Ashkan Soltani (researcher): ” To be effective, privacy protections for consumers online will likely require both a technical and policy component, working in tandem, and I believe these discussions here today are a great step in making that union a reality.

Consumer Privacy Bill or Rights in legislation, including incentives for Safe Harbors and Self-Regulation: Committee Chairman Rockefeller: “There is an online privacy war going on, and without help, consumers will lose. We must act to give Americans the basic online privacy protections they deserve.

A few things to ponder:

  • Do our legislators have broad understanding that privacy issues are not only online? Do they understand that privacy issues are abundant beyond behavioral advertising?
  • Is industry ready to embrace self regulatory programs, such as TRUSTe’s, to balance potential legislation?
  • Will consumers step up and make the choices that we are all committed to providing?
  • Finally, how can we ensure that the combo of Legislation + Co or Self Regulation and Technology meets the bar for better privacy?

You can watch s video recording of the hearing here.

2 thoughts on “The State of Online Consumer Privacy

  1. This post makes an excellent point that accountability needs to be a component of private and public sector regulations on privacy.
    If the visitors have a confident faith that each organization is accountable for their collection and use of private data, then privacy is no longer a risk – it’s a guarantee.

  2. “We must act to give Americans the basic online privacy protections they deserve.” — I wonder when will that be?

    In another note, the people should know that social networks like Facebook and Twitter are all “public” networks and whatever they post there will be seen by everyone. I think it’s in the individual’s discretion on what he does on the internet – they should read the privacy settings and set it up correctly before they post anything in “public”.

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