Consumer Groups Cautious About Internet Privacy Effort
Not all consumer groups are sold on the Kerry-McCain bill's ability to protect customers online.
Posted Apr 13, 2011
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Consumer advocacy groups by and large are hailing a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate yesterday by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz,) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) to craft online privacy legislation, but several today said the bill needs to be significantly strengthened if it is to effectively protect consumer privacy rights in today's digital marketplace.

In a letter to the senators, Consumer Watchdog, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and Privacy Times said they could not support the bill at this time because it does not go far enough. The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights "needs to be significantly strengthened if it is to effectively protect consumer privacy rights in today's digital marketplace," they wrote in the letter. "Consumers need strong baseline safeguards to protect them from the sophisticated data profiling and targeting practices that are now rampant online and with mobile devices."

Among the groups' concerns are the following:

  • it doesn't direct the Federal Trade Commission to require and enforce a "Do Not Track Me" mechanism;
  • it relies too heavily on the "notice and choice" model and could enshrine current practices, allowing companies to continue compliling vast digital dossiers that can negatively affect consumers;
  • it gives special interest treatment to Facebook and other social media marketers, permitting them to gather data on their users without sufficient safeguards;
  • it lacks clear guidelines for consumers looking to hold companies accountable for violating their privacy;
  • it would prohibit states from enacting stronger protections; and
  • it usurps the FTC's traditional lead role in protecting privacy and turns much of the responsibility over to the Commerce Department, which primarily seeks to promote the interests of businesses and not consumers. The Department of Commerce, they say "therefore, must not have the lead role in online privacy."

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