17 Dic Privacy groups ask Obama for stronger FTC
CNET News, By Stephanie Condon, December 16, 2008
About a dozen leading privacy and consumer groups met with members of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team Tuesday to discuss the Federal Trade Commission’s role in protecting consumer privacy. 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. “The FTC keeps moving the goal post on what privacy advocates need to prove” before it provides substantive regulation, said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology’s Information Privacy Programs. “The commission has taken this posture that allowed business interests to win by just showing up. Self-regulation in online privacy has gotten more than a fair shake.” Hoofnagle took part in Tuesday’s meeting, along with representatives from 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. The groups met with Susan Ness and Phil Weiser, the FTC review team leaders for the Obama transition team. While the transition’s agency review leaders have been seeking insight from numerous sources about the functionality of agencies like the FTC, this meeting was held at the request of the privacy groups, according to Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “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,” Chester said. “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. If the FTC is going to let industries self-regulate their privacy policies, it should provide clear benchmarks, Hoofnagle said. Without clearly defining the problems that need to be solved and the measures of success, the commission cannot know when it should intervene, he said. The Network Advertising Initiative, for example, is a group of third-party network advertisers including Google and Yahoo that has created its own online behavioral advertising guidelines. The group announced Tuesday it updated its code of conduct, but 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.