Consumer Groups Applaud Online Privacy Bill of Rights

The White House and the online advertising industry were getting plenty of positive feedback on their announcement supporting a voluntary online privacy bill of rights, and the creation of a browser-based do-not-track mechanism that the ad industry has endorsed.

The mechanism should make it easier for Web surfers to opt out of most online data collection.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association said it supported the White House effort.

"We applaud the Administration for bringing attention to the value of consumer-focused, multi-stakeholder efforts to improve privacy," said NCTA President Michael Powell in a statement. "As an industry built upon a trusted service relationship with its customers, cable operators and programmers have long been leaders in protecting the privacy of personally identifiable data, explaining data practices to their customers and providing appropriate levels of control over the use of such data. We stand ready to work with the Administration, the FTC and other stakeholders on these efforts."

The ACLU called it an "important first step. Day by day, we live more of our lives online, shopping, managing bank accounts and communicating with friends and family," said Christopher ACLU legislative counsel Calabrese. "It's crucial that the information we share is properly safeguarded. It's very encouraging to see the Obama administration making this issue a priority. Americans need clear and distinct policies in place when it comes to the kind of access law enforcement and private companies have to their online information."

Consumers Union (which published Consumer Reports) and Consumer Federation of America said the announcement signaled progress toward more consumer control of online data collection and use. "By including a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, the government is emphasizing the importance of transparency, individual control, and the ability to access and correct personal information, and recognizes there may be a need to for heightened protections for children and teens on the Internet," the groups said in a statement.

"We are encouraged by this announcement, but we urge the Administration to ensure that it carries out this process in a fair and transparent manner, and that consumer voices are heard and acted on," added Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America.

"A lot of credit goes to Internet companies, advertisers, and agencies for developing self-regulatory privacy principles that could pass the watchful eye of the increasingly vigilant FTC," says Adonis Hoffman, a communications professor and former general counsel to the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "While there is no perfect solution acceptable to all stakeholders, this plan gives consumers more choices and control with respect to their personal data than anything else on the books today, and it is a big step forward. FTC Chairman Leibowitz and his staff have done a masterful job of balancing the competing interests of consumers and marketers, backed up by a credible enforcement framework – not an easy feat. This has been a long time coming."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.