Friday, November 12, 2010

"Do Not Track" Option - Will It Happen? + Watchdog for Privacy Planned?

I remember when the banks first moved to having a web site and even offering consumers online banking.  We wanted to be able to send them targeted messages and emails and were bogged down with lawyers, compliance officers, risk officers, marketing and others trying to reach consensus on what we could, should, and were allowed to do.  The waterway was murky and clogged with paperwork but we eventually got to the right place.

I remember when the "Do Not Call" standards came out and the work we needed to do in order to comply.  It diverted resources, investment and attention away from other activities.

I paint both of these examples as a backdrop for the decision making process.  Not to advocate for or against a "Do Not Track" Option but to explain that companies will have to make investments in order to comply and there are other considerations to review before we jump to conclusions.

The New York Times wrote a great piece about the online privacy debate.  In a free market society, debate over privacy vs. economics vs. convenience is a good debate to have.

There is a White House task force being led by Cameron Kerry.  If that last name is familiar to you, he is the brother of Senator John Kerry.

Consumers need to know this key point highlighted by the Wall Street Journal - "There is no comprehensive U.S. law that protects consumer privacy online."

Privacy crackdowns on U.S. companies like Google and Facebook came from outside the U.S. from countries with strong privacy laws.  This has included Germany, Canada and the U.K.

Key Points of Consideration:
1.  Privacy advocates are pushing for a "Do Not Track" option to allow internet users to opt out of being tracked while surfing sites.  Currently, technology will track you and collect clues that can indicate your age, health, location, and even perhaps your salary and what you do for fun.

2.  Other say let Industry regulate itself and let consumers decide who they trust and visit based on how they are treated.

3.  Two U.S. Government agencies, the Federal Trade Commission & the Commerce Department, are going to release reports on this topic soon and they are expected to have conflicting advice as to how to handle this.

4.  Law Enforcement & National Security:  They will need to be able to gather information for investigations.  Same as in the physical world, we will need to balance our individual privacy and rights with our need for protection.  I do not see an easy answer here but believe that open and honest debate is the best way to decide on an approach.

5.  Any time you mandate how & what companies must do, there is a price.  You could be stifling future innovation.  You will pay a price in resources that could be allocated to something else - like fighting cybercriminals or inventing a new product or lower costs for services.

6.  The global view:  The UK, Germany, and members of the European Union are beefing up privacy rules and to be a player in the global economy, our American companies may be forced down a path of "Do Not Track".

U.S. Government Positions Highlighted in the NYT article:
FTC Position:  Let industry regulate itself, put into place user agreements.

Commerce Department Position:  "Do Not Track" option (think "Do Not Call" list for telemarketers).

A quote of note from the NY Times article is from Eric Schmidt:
“Targeted ads are helpful and ad competition is helpful,” said Eric E. Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, which owns the online advertising exchange DoubleClick.

"Watchdog Planned for Online Privacy", Julia Angwin, Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2010.
"Stage Set for Showdown on Online Privacy",  EDWARD WYATT and TANZINA VEGA, New York Times, November 9, 2010

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