Momentum building for federal online privacy rules

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Momentum building for federal online privacy rules

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said Tuesday that he plans to introduce an online privacy bill that would create standards for how consumer information is collected and used for marketing. It would also give users more control over how their Internet activity and profiles are accessed by advertisers and Web sites.

Kerry's bill, announced in a news release during a hearing on online privacy held by the Senate commerce committee, follows two privacy bills introduced in the House in recent months aimed at protecting sensitive information such as health and financial data. Kerry said he hopes his bill will be passed at the beginning of the next Congress.

The legislative proposals add momentum to a push by consumer groups to create stronger federal rules for how companies such as Facebook, Apple, and Google can track user activity and place ads based on that information. Facebook faced criticism for creating complex changes to its privacy polices last year that made some data more publicly available. Apple and AT&T were criticized for a data breach that revealed the network identities of iPad users. Google said it accidentally snooped on residential WiFi networks as it collected information for location-based applications.

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, meanwhile, noted during the hearing that Web sites and advertisers have been working to come up with their own rules for how to collect and use information in a way that doesn't violate privacy rights.

"If they want to do a better job of ensuring consumers have clear choices going forward and rules and notice, it is in their hands to avoid legislation," he said in response to questions from lawmakers. "If they don't, we will see in the next Congress more interest in moving forward on more proscriptive rules."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company