If you wonder if you are being followed online and if anything can be done about it, take a look at the just-out Federal Trade Commission report on online privacy.
A frightening amount of information is available about us online and the Federal Trade Commission has endorsed the notion of a "privacy by design" build-in for web browsers. The report suggests a new framework for online privacy is vital.
The question of whether the government can compel online companies, that advertise us based on the information they collect, to give us the "do not track me" option is one for Congress to decide apparently. The FTC says it should happen, but not how it will.
What's key is that the findings of the year-long study are that we need more online privacy, a "Do Not Track Me" mechanism is desirable and we're moving toward it.
At Consumer Watchdog's conference in DC on the future of online privacy, FTC Consumer Protection Chief David Vladeck gave an early-morning preview of the FTC position that reads true as an overview of the report. (The conference is being broadcast live now at http://www.visualwebcaster.com/consumerwatchdog.)
Here is what Vladeck said:
1. We need to reduce burden on consumers. Consumers too many bear burdens for online privacy. The FTC approach is to build privacy into products and security at outset: "Privacy by design."
2. We should greatly simplify consumer choice – consumers can focus on choices that really matter to them and should have choices that are meaningful. Self-regulation by industry is not working.
3. More consistent privacy policies – compare at a glance. Encourage competition on matters of privacy. Comparable privacy policies should be available.
4. Strong protections are needed for sensitive information like children's identity, health, geolocation.
The FTC opened the debate and said what's needed. Now it's up to Congress, industry and even the states to make use of the study they have provided.
As a ballot measure backer who knows the public wants these protections, I for one am ready to move in California to make a "Do Not Track Me" mechanism mandatory. If Congress doesn't act, we will go to the ballot. Vladeck said today he did not see a federal bar to state action.
This is good news for privacy online. Today the FTC has said what needs to be done, even if they have failed to give us a clear blue print as to how it can be.