An Update on Online Privacy From My Internet Attorney

Last updated 9/9/14 – It comes as no surprise that my internet attorney, Richard Newman, keeps me up to date on privacy issues.  In fact as my online attorney, he has advised me to make sure that I divulge that privacy online is a misnomer.  In my opinion, it’s not only a not only a misnomer, but a misguided and mistaken mission undertaken by members of Congress who’s only understanding of the matter is to try and show their constituents that they actually do go on the internet for more than sending lewd pics of themselves.

Maybe that is a little harsh, but as my internet attorney will attest, I am not one to mince words.  Privacy issues are important for sure, and when marketers step over the line we all need to stand up and let them know that it won’t be tolerated.  But as the article below (penned by my internet attorney) points out clearly, members of Congress have no clue about what really happens online.

Here’s why they have no clue.

It is virtually impossible to destroy all records associated with an online customer.  The data lives on and on in disparate databases and will do so for many many years.  Probably longer than the half life of plutonium.

Online collected data usually is shared several times just in the normal course of doing business.  For example, when someone fills out a form online, say for insurance or an online school, it is not the school or insurance company that put up the page, it is usually a publisher who gets paid to collect that information.  Not by the school or insurance company, but by an affiliate or a publisher who then is getting paid by a media broker to buy those leads.  The media broker will then send the list of collected data to his list and then they buy it.  The process happens over and over again.

Lastly, members of Congress don’t really understand how the Internet Marketing game works.  They usually let industries self police themselves until there is a public outcry or it is an issue they think they can get re-elected on.  The Online Privacy Bill of Rights sounds great, so they will get behind it even though their attempts to stem the tide are destined to be futile.

I am not normally a negative person, but on this issue, controlling online privacy, I have to weigh in on the side of the curmudgeon’s.  If a person wants to protect their privacy online I suggest the following:

  1. Never go online
  2. If you must go online, do not buy anything or fill out any form, ever.
  3. If you must fill in a form to get the latest eBook or get a $500 Amazon Gift card (usually a scam) then use an alternate persona.
  4. Read all Privacy Policies carefully and send a documented email (CC your internet attorney) to let site owners know that you want to opt out of receiving any and all correspondences (unless you have won a $500 Amazon Gift Card).

The point is, Congress has its ideas on what they think will work.  The reality of it is, just like the CAN-SPAM regulations, consumers need to do their own policing.  Imposing rules and fines for marketers will change only a fraction of the tracking that is done.  For the majority of online marketers whose livelihood depends on fresh emails and fresh eyeballs for their campaigns, they will continue to track your movements, what you buy, what you sign up for, and then try to target you with the most relevant campaign offers they can.  Because at the end of the day, they only want to find the right person at the right time with the right message and product.  And in most cases this makes consumers happy because they don’t have to do all that work themselves.

If government knew what it was talking about, they would not have names a regulation about Spamming Can Spam.  The very name implies that you CAN SPAM (and if you read it you still can, you just have to remove them if they ask).

I hope you enjoy Richard Newman’s article below, it is an excellent rundown of what is going on in Congress with regards to Privacy laws being applied to online marketing.

On May 6, 2011, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, announced plans to introduce legislation that would allow consumers to opt out of having their online activities followed by companies.  Pursuant to the impending legislative proposal, The Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be permitted to initiate action against any company that fails to respect a consumer’s opt-out choice.  According to Rockefeller, This bill will offer a simple, straightforward way for people to stop companies from tracking their every move on the Internet.  It is anticipated that this proposed legislation will be introduced sometime this week.  Similar legislation was recently introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and is currently pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Under Rockefeller’s bill, if consumers ask not to be tracked, companies would be allowed to collect only the information that is necessary for the website or online service to function and be effective. In addition, the company would be obligated to destroy or anonymize the information once it is no longer needed.  This bill will be widely supported by the leading consumer and privacy groups.  Chairman Rockefeller’s support for Do Not Track is widely perceived as a political game-changer, one which will catapult the issue to the privacy forefront.

Broader Privacy Legislation On The Way

Meanwhile, broader privacy legislation has been proposed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. Kerry’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), would establish the first omnibus U.S. consumer privacy rules, governing data-collection practices across the business community, both online and offline.  Similar bills have been introduced in the House by Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), members of the House Commerce Committee. The Obama administration has announced support for the enactment of a U.S. privacy bill of rights for consumers and is still working on the legislative details.

Also, on May, 2011, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) released a discussion draft of legislation to beef up online privacy protections for children.  The measure has been dubbed that Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011, and would presumably amend the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998.  Among other provisions, it would establish a digital marketing bill of rights for teens and prohibit online companies from using personal information of children and teens for targeted marketing purposes.  It would also require companies to permit users to eliminate publicly available personal information content when technologically feasible.  Both Barton and Markey sit on the House Commerce Committee and serve as co-chairmen of the House Privacy Caucus.  The Markey-Barton draft privacy bill is available at http://markey.house.gov/docs/bill_-_discussion_draft_-_5-5-11_-_final.pdf.

Privacy laws and regulations continue to be hot-button issues these days, particularly where behavioral advertising is concerned, which involves tracking consumers Internet activities for targeted marketing purposes.  Federal policy makers have grown increasingly concerned that online companies are gathering vast amounts of personal data on consumers, with very little transparency.

In December of 2010, the FTC issues a preliminary report, proposing the creation of an Internet do-not-track mechanism, either through federal legislation or industry self-regulation, as part of a broader privacy initiative.  Public comments were due by Feb. 18, 2011 and a final report is expected toward the end of 2011.

Not surprisingly, consumer advocacy groups have called on Congress to give the FTC the authority to both mandate and enforce a do-not-track mechanism.  However, the online advertising industry has urged the government to give industry self-regulatory efforts more time.

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