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Obama pushes 'bill of rights' for punters' privates

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US President Obama has proposed a "bill of rights" for online privacy that could give the US government greater powers to wallop the likes of Google and Facebook for fumbling sensitive data.

White House chiefs have told the Commerce Department to herd internet companies, privacy advocates and related bods into a room to develop enforceable rules based on his proposed blueprint for improving consumer protections

The proposed bill will give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the job of enforcing data privacy rights that are agreed to by everyone involved in the process.

“American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” President Barack Obama said in a canned statement.

“As the internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That’s why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important. For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure.

"By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth.”

Just this month mobile app developers were caught slurping users' address books, Google was accused of bypassing browser privacy and lawmakers jumped on the Chocolate Factory's changes to its privacy policy.

The world's top internet firms rake in moola from targeted online advertising yet there's the worry that companies aren't admitting exactly how data collected from punters is used. Lawmakers sorting out privacy issues have had a piecemeal and reactionary response so far.

The Digital Advertising Alliance, which represents almost all online advertisers including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, has said it will improve its Do Not Track software for web browsers.

The alliance offered punters a way to avoid being identified across websites, but the system was criticised as confusing and complicated. It has now agreed to make a much simpler Do Not Track button in browsers that people can use to opt out of cookie-based data collection, which will also be policed by the FTC.

So far the bill is really just a gesture, since signing up is voluntary, although any firm that refused to sign up wouldn't be doing much for its reputation. And the White House also said it would be working with Congress to try to develop follow-up legislation.

According to Prez Obama, the privacy rights of consumers online are:

  • Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.
  • Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
  • Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

You can read the full report, snappily titled Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy, here (PDF). ®

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