Thursday, December 18, 2008

CNET Reports: Privacy groups ask Obama for stronger FTC

Now here's a little good news. A who's who in privacy advocacy, including the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the Consumer Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Digital Democracy, the World Privacy Forum, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Privacy Times, the Privacy Journal, the Consumers Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, met with Obama's transition team earlier in the week to discuss strengthening the Federal Trade Commission...particularly as it relates to consumer privacy.

I can't think of a more respected coalition of organizations to make this important case to the incoming we'll see whether they're listening.

Stephanie Condon of CNET News reports:

While participating organizations addressed a range of problems and potential solutions, the underlying message was clear: the FTC has for too long allowed industries to self-regulate their online privacy practices--to the detriment of consumers.


"We wanted to impress upon the transition team that there are many online privacy issues that need to be the highest priority of the incoming Obama FTC," said Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "The last eight years has been a disaster for consumer protection and privacy, and the agency has not really had the interest to work on behalf of consumers to investigate the online ad industry and its harmful and problematic practices."

Along with the need for better regulation of targeted online marketing, the groups discussed the need for more oversight in the data broker industry and privacy policies for medical information, among other things. A range of solutions were offered, from more benchmarks for self-regulated industries to new legislation.


...multiple groups at the meeting with the Obama transition team said that behavioral tracking and targeting is still a problem that the FTC needs to address. Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation, called the practice "deceptive on its face."

"The FTC approach to this issue is emblematic of its timid and inadequate approach to consumer privacy in general over the past several years," she said. "Information is collected by entities with whom people have no relation, without consumers having any idea of what would be done with that information."

The Consumer Federation is calling for the FTC to establish a "Do Not Track" registry, Grant said. The FTC already oversees the Do Not Call Registry, which lets consumers opt out of receiving telemarketing calls. The registry has been very successful, Hoofnagle said, with telemarketers reporting larger profits and more effective results.


The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer rights group, has received numerous complaints from consumers about companies that sell their personal information, including companies that supposedly violate their own privacy policies, according to the Clearinghouse's director Beth Givens. "This is an unregulated industry that needs to be investigated by the FTC," Givens said. "It's long overdue."

Data brokering may have contributed to the mortgage meltdown of the past year, Hoofnagle said, since Internet users would typically face a deluge of offers from mortgage brokers after making a single inquiry online about how to get a mortgage.

I think you all get the idea...all I can say is I sure would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall at this meeting!

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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