Privacy Bill Of Rights – Are Two Agencies Better than One?

Privacy Bill Of Rights – Are Two Agencies Better than One?

Online Privacy is a hot button issue, and now the US government wants to have two agencies pressing the button on who’s not playing fair.  The question is, is this really necessary.

The FTC, the primary watchdog for domestic consumer fraud protection, and the Department of Commerce, the main agency responsible for facilitating US business’ goals globally, are both vying for a piece of the privacy regulatory pie.  In separate statements they have both been lobbying for a beefed up Privacy Bill of Rights intended to protect consumers from advertisers knowing too much about their prospective customers actions and information online.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz has suggested that advertisers & agencies that represent them design their online campaigns with Privacy measures “baked in by design”.  Threatening that if this doesn’t happen they could face everything from congressional action to a national do-not-track list.  The response of the IAB, The 4A’s and others has been to allow consumers to opt into or out of tracking with a new symbol that will be attached to online ad units.  They have also been encouraging members to provide a basic level of privacy protection for their visitors.

The Department of Commerce has issued a “Privacy green paper” which recommends and calls for certain narrow legislative measures, including a nationally consistent set of rules for data security-breach notification as well as a review of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act for the “cloud computing” environment.

I found a terrific article on the Privacy Bill of Rights that explores this issue in depth from the legal perspective by Richard Newman of Hinch Newman LLP where he describes the dual roles of each of the regulatory entities and gives insights into what advertisers can do to keep a step ahead of government regulations.  The main point that Newman makes is that the environment will likely become extremely regulated if advertisers don’t take proactive steps now to shore up their Privacy practices.  It is one thing to have a Privacy Policy, it is quite another to actually abide by it.

When advertisers “bake in Privacy by design” as the FTC chairman has suggested, they avoid the risk of government intervention, but unless this is adopted universally even the most stringent advertiser guidelines could be called into question.  So how far does an advertiser need to go when dealing with Privacy?  I think the answer is simple and one that most of learned in kindergarten:

– Respect Others.  This is central, giving users a choice in what they do and what they do not want in terms of tracking their behavior (in the name of better and more relevant targeting) should be a given and not an option.

– Don’t Lie. This may seem redundant with the above, but advertisers who allow users to see what information advertisers are collecting as well as the methods this is achieved by needs to be central to their commitment to their users.  Transparency in what is being recorded and used should always be available for consumers.

– Play Fair.  If the playing field is unduly skewed towards advertisers using less than scrupulous methods of culling data (screen scraping social media outlets, augmenting data from data aggregators or other non-opted in data sources) then the advertiser should revel these tactics in their Privacy Policies.

Dave Morgan, the ex-owner of Tacoda, the Internet’s first behavioral targeting darling (now owned by AOL) writes in an article for Media Post that “Our more reactive efforts to “retrofit” strong privacy protections into our existing businesses are fine, and need to continue, but we also need to be thinking and acting in parallel to those efforts to make privacy protection a fundamental part of everything that we do going forward. Significant benefits await companies that do this well.”

I agree with Dave, as the benefits include not having the government monkey on your back as well as consumers who will be more able to trust brands that make the effort to provide a better Privacy Bill of Rights.  In the long run, there will more than likely be government regulations that will be enforced by both the FTC and the Dept.o of Commerce, and yes most advertisers will grumble.  But the net outcome will be a more secure digital environment that can more seamlessly integrate with consumers daily live.  Privacy online is a joke in many cases, but if advertisers want their customers to continue trusting them, they will make it a priority to beef up their security of the data they are entrusted with and be transparent in the ways they use that data.

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