Obama steps up fight for online consumer protection with ‘Privacy Bill of Rights’

The Obama administration has unveiled a new framework for protecting Americans’ data on the Internet, including a commitment to technology that allows consumers to opt out of tracking, the government announced today.

“American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” said President Obama, in a statement. “As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That’s why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important. For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure. By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth.”

Online privacy concerns has attracted an increasing level of scrutiny over the past few months, with Google making a sweeping controversial change to its privacy policies and the Path contact-stealing debacle that eventually exposed other iOS apps that invade your privacy.

The new “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” aims to put a stop to companies taking user data without notifying them and giving people the option to not be tracked. The government said that 90 percent of companies that control online behavioral ads, including Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, have already agreed to the framework to let consumers get out of being tracked online. By making that agreement, these companies will be subject to enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission.

The pillars of the bill are:

• Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.
• Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
• Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
• Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
• Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
• Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
• Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

While the bill is awfully vague, it’s a step in the right direction to help legislators in Congress come up with new ways to protect consumers online. And while the focus of this bill seems to be on advertisers like Google and AOL, it’s a shame Facebook — the company that controls and sells 800 million users’ worth of data — didn’t even get a single mention in the White House’s announcement blog post.

Do you think this is a step in the right direction for online privacy? What else would you like to see done?

Obama vs. Darth Vader photo: Michael Verdi/Flickr