Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lawmaker Introduces New Privacy Bill

Via the Wall Street Journal ...

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced a bill Friday that would give the Federal Trade Commission authority to establish an online do-not-track system.

The bill is the first in this session to specifically tackle the creation of a do-not-track system, according to a spokesman for Ms. Speier. In December, the FTC issued a report recommending the creation of a do-not-track system and suggested that lawmakers use the report as a template for legislation.

Since the FTCs recommendation, Mozilla Corp. has said it will include a do-not-track feature in an upcoming version of its Firefox Web browser. But so far, no tracking companies have publicly stated that they will participate in a do-not-track system.

In its newest Internet Explorer browser, Microsoft will allow users to stop certain websites and tracking companies from monitoring them. And Google last month began offering a tool that lets users of its Chrome browser permanently opt out of ad-tracking cookies.

Representatives of the three companies sparred gently over the merits of the differing approaches at a conference Wednesday at the University of California, Berkeley. Alex Fowler, Mozilla’s global privacy and public-policy leader, said it wanted to give users flexibility in choosing the companies they will and won’t allow to track them.

“We’ve done this intentionally because there is a spectrum of values across our users,” Mr. Fowler said. Some “don’t want to see ads or be tracked” at all, while others “see value in free services by receiving free advertising.”

Privacy issues are heating up on Capitol Hill. Earlier this week, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., re-introduced privacy legislation that he introduced during the last session of Congress. His bill would establish baseline federal privacy laws around the collection of personal data. Rep. John Kerry, D-Mass., is also expected to introduce privacy legislation in the coming weeks.

There is no comprehensive U.S. law that protects consumer privacy online. Internet privacy issues generally are policed by the FTC, which can take action only if a privacy-violating action is deemed “deceptive” or “unfair.” Last year, the Obama Administration called for a Web privacy “bill of rights” to help regulate the personal data collection industry.

Of course, these Democratic bills face challenges in the Republican House of Representatives. Ms. Speier said while the bill has two co-sponsors, both Democrats, she is “hopeful we’ll find Republican co-sponsors — we’re hopeful of finding Tea Party-Republicans, because that’s a closely held value” of Tea Party Conservatives, she told Digits.

Ms. Speier also noted support from the Consumers’ Union, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Watchdog and the American Civil Liberties Union. The Congresswoman predicted broad support because “86 percent of the public that has been polled nationally wants to have the option of not being tracked.”

4 comments:

Margot Dale said...

This article is directly related to what we were discussing in class last Monday. I believe that when the article talks about uses gaining access to "free services by receiving free advertising" this article could also be applied to data mining procedures, as we discussed in class. A lot of these "free advertisements" are presented to these users based on previous searches/site visits. Thus, they are applicable to the web-surfers life and the web-surfers are in turn more likely to be interested in these advertisements. I believe the actions of Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google are definitely useful and helpful. While some people may enjoy reaping the benefits of these data mining techniques, others feel that their privacy is invaded and they do not want to "see ads or be tracked." In my opinion, I feel no need to have access to these free advertisements. If I am interested in finding something on the internet, I guarantee it is quite easily accessible. I don't need internet companies tracking my every move in order to present to me something I that is likely unnecessary to my life.
Some general things I noticed in this article....first, it is a little surprising (pleasently surprising) that there is so much legal action being taken surrounding the issue of privacy. Before taking this class, I feel like I would be somewhat unconcerned with legislation revolving around privacy issues. Furthermore, I wasn't even aware that such legislative actions were being taken. It is comforting to know that there are people that are focusing on this issue and recognizing the safety of American's as an important topic to discuss. However, on the contrary, the fact that "there is no comprehensive U.S. law that protects consumer privacy online" is troubling. How long has the internet been around for? How many hacks, scams, and malicious crimes have been carried out through the internet? The fact that a comprehensive law surrounding the protection of privacy for all internet users seems a little crazy. WIth the internet as such a HUGE part of most Americans' every day lives, I think that it is about time we start working towards a safer more reliable internet.

Andrew Glass said...

These pieces of legislation seem to be very good politics, yet pose significant problems with regard to implementation. Speaking for the privacy rights of all Americans is very good politics and the majority of the constituents of these politicians will surely support their policy goals in this arena. I mean, with the growing fear of expanding government and diminished privacy, what politician would want to take on the cause of supporting data-mining?

However well intentioned these bills may be, I fear that they are just political posturing. After all, the lobbyists for companies that gather information using data mining are very powerful. Secondly, as we have discussed in class, many of these information-storing companies have invested so much money in data collection technologies that it seems very impractical and ridiculously costly to ask them to throw out all of their expensive data-mined information.

My guess is that if anything happens with these bills, it would be the politicians moving more towards the interest of the high-tech companies. It's good politics to defend privacy rights, but very much so easier said than done.

Kelly said...

I think the government should be less concerned with legislating data collection and more concerned about legislating what is done with that data collection. As we've discussed in class, our lifestyles in this country require data to be collected on us every day, almost all the time--much of which a majority of the American public is unaware.

It seems that if data is bought and sold by corporations without revealing individuals' identity and assigning numbers to individuals' data instead, then privacy would be protected. The role of the government would then be to enforce that those numbers would not be revealed as an individual's identity.

Also, from what I've gathered from readings for class, it seems like tracking, not in terms of individuals, but in terms of 1s and 0s and detecting patterns (as Clarke would say) is important for the detection of harmful malware. All the more reason to regulate not the tracking, but what is done with information (particularly concerning identity) in regard to tracking.

Elizabeth B said...

I am very happy to hear that the government is finally stepping up and starting to make some internet privacy laws. In class we have discussed the different components that need to be used in making different privacy laws. I think that an internet "bill of rights" is essential to living in modern day America. The Founding Fathers made the Constitution to be a working model that changed over time to fit the modern day. I think that it is only fitting that we would have a modern addition to the Constitution in regards to internet use. Although it can be a great marketing tool, I personally do not appreciate being tracked by certain websites. I know that I am being tracked a lot though. For example, I once was looking at watches on Amazon. Later on that day, I went to play tetris on freetetris.org. The two ads on the sides of the page both were advertising similar watches to the ones that I was looking at. Being tracked on the internet is similar to going into a store and having a clerk be overly helpful. The tracking websites are giving us unwanted suggestions that are often becoming very annoying. Many of these clerks do not get to keep their jobs for long and I don't think that these trackers should get to keep their jobs either. We should be able to decide if we want their help or not, internet users should not just be bombarded with all of these unwanted suggestions.