Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Consumer, Privacy Groups Call for Federal Regulation of Online Tracking

This posting was written by Thomas A. Long, Editor of CCH Privacy Law in Marketing.

A coalition of ten consumer and privacy advocacy organizations issued a statement on September 1, calling on Congress to enact legislation to protect consumer privacy in response to threats from the growing practices of online behavioral tracking and targeting.

The coalition outlined its concerns and recommended principles for consumer information privacy legislation in letters sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee; its Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection; and its Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.

Invasion of Privacy

“Tracking people’s every move online is an invasion of privacy,” the coalition said. “Online behavioral tracking is even more distressing when consumers aren’t aware who is tracking them, that it’s happening, or how the information will be used.”

According to Amina Fazlullah of U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), “The rise of behavioral tracking has made it possible for consumer information to be almost invisibly tracked, compiled and potentially misused on or offline. It’s critical that government enact strong privacy regulations whose protections will remain with consumers as they interact on their home computer, cell phones, PDAs or even at the store down the street.”

Beth Givens, Director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, said “The record is clear: industry self-regulation doesn't work. It is time for Congress to step in and codify the principles into law.”

In the coalition’s view, consumer privacy legislation should ensure that:

• Sensitive information is not collected or used for behavioral tracking or targeting.

• Behavioral data is not collected from minors or used, to the extent that age can be inferred.

• Websites and ad networks do not retain or use behavioral data for more than 24 hours without affirmative consent.

• Behavioral data is not used to unfairly discriminate against people or in any way that would affect an individual's credit, education, employment, insurance, or access to government benefits.

A news release, with attached copies of the letters to Congressional leaders, appears here on U.S. PIRG's website. Full text of the coalition’s report (“Online Behavioral Tracking and Targeting, Legislative Primer, September 2009") is available here.

No comments: