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FAQ: What’s in the ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’?

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The Obama administration on Thursday announced what it calls its “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights,” a long-awaited framework suggesting how companies should protect consumer information online.

What are the rights?

The document outlines seven main “rights.” It is not yet clear whether these rights would apply to Web browsers on mobile devices.

●Individual control: People should be able to control personal data. Companies should write clear, easy-to-understand privacy policies and give consumers a way to opt out of data collection.

●Transparency: Companies should be clear about what information they collect, why they need it, how they use it, whom they share it with and when they will delete it.

●Respect for context: If companies collect personal information for one purpose, the firm can’t then decide it wants to use that data for another. Special care should be given to children and teens.

●Security: Consumers have a right to expect that their data will be stored and transmitted securely.

●Access and accuracy: Consumers should be able to access personal data and correct any errors.

●Focused collection: Companies shouldn’t collect more data than they need, and consumers should have the right to say what those limits are, within reason.

●Accountability: Companies should hold their employees responsible for adhering to these rights, conduct audits on their activities and implement training for their staffs.

Who can enforce these? Is this a mandate?

The guidelines are voluntary, although the Federal Trade Commission can police companies that agree to follow the recommendations.

Will there be a law?

The administration has said that it will use this privacy framework as a blueprint for future legislation and to work with state attorneys general on getting the authority to enforce the bill of rights.

But there are some doubts about whether comprehensive legislation will make it through Congress, particularly in an election year. There are a handful of privacy bills that have been introduced this session but have failed to gain much traction.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who has worked with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on a draft for comprehensive legislation for nearly two years, reissued a call Thursday to move forward on privacy legislation.

“Senator McCain and I have been building support for our bipartisan approach for almost two years and I welcome the Administration’s call for a baseline code of conduct wholly consistent with what we’ve been promoting,” he said in a statement. “Now let’s get something done.”

What’s this ‘do not track’ button I’m hearing about?

Several of the largest online advertising industry groups said Thursday that they will implement do-not-track technology in Web browsers. This is a voluntary move by the industry.

The idea of creating do-not-track technology has been around for a while, but not every advertiser had to agree to abide by the idea.

The Digital Advertising Alliance — which encompasses 400 advertising firms, the vast majority of the industry — has agreed not to use data from consumers who don’t want their activities to be tracked or their information to be used for employment, health care or insurance.

The advertising firms can still use information from these consumers for market research. The companies will also be able to track other activities when users sign into their accounts or, say, what they choose to “Like” on Facebook.

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