What can be done to ensure online privacy?

Social networking, cloud computing and mobile marketing threaten your privacy every day.

The Federal Trade Commission later this year is holding public roundtables to look at the privacy challenges posed by the vast array of technology and business practices including social networking, cloud computing, online behavioral advertising, mobile marketing, and the collection and use of information by retailers, data brokers, third-party applications. 

Private information is under all sorts of attacks online and the agency is looking to develop ever-better policies to help protect it.  The cat may already be out of the bag on this one but the agency says it is looking all issues and will start with three key areas: 

  • What risks, concerns, and benefits arise from the collection, sharing, and use of consumer information?  For example, consider the risks and/or benefits of information practices in the following contexts: retail or other commercial environments involving a direct consumer-business relationship; data broker and other business-to-business environments involving no direct consumer relationship; platform environments involving information sharing with third party application developers; the mobile environment; social networking sites; behavioral advertising; cloud computing services; services that collect sensitive data, such as information about adolescents or children, financial or health information, or location data; and any other contexts you wish to address. 
  • Are there commonly understood or recognized consumer expectations about how information concerning consumers is collected and used? Do consumers have certain general expectations about the collection and use of their information when they browse the Internet, participate in social networking services, obtain products from retailers both online and offline, or use mobile communications devices? Is there empirical data that allows us reliably to measure any such consumer expectations?  How determinative should consumer expectations be in developing policies about privacy? 
  • Do the existing legal requirements and self-regulatory regimes in the United States today adequately protect consumer privacy interests? If not, what are the particular privacy interests that warrant increased protection? How have changes in technology, and in the way consumer data is collected, stored, and shared, affected consumer privacy? What are the costs, benefits, and feasibility of technological innovations, such as browser-based controls, that enable consumers to exercise control over information collection? How might increased privacy protections affect technological innovation? 

The FTC said roundtable participants will include stakeholders representing a wide range of views and experiences, such as academics, privacy experts, consumer advocates, industry participants and associations, technology experts, legislators, international representatives, and others. 

The privacy roundtables are free and open to the public. The first will be held Monday, December 7, 2009, at the FTC Conference Center at 601 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC.  Individuals and organizations may submit requests to participate as panelists and may recommend topics for inclusion on the agenda. The requests and recommendations should be submitted electronically to privacyroundtable@ftc.gov

The FTC routinely holds such roundtable discussions on major issues. For example, last year it took a look at consumer protection issues stemming from the growing use of contactless devices, or pay-as-you-go systems for retail payments. 

Contactless payment devices, which use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to let users make low dollar-value purchases by holding an RFID-enabled device (such as a smart card, key fob, or mobile phone) in proximity to a reader, are increasingly available in the US at gas stations, retail stores and highway toll systems. Contactless payment technology typically uses RF technology embedded in credit cards, mobile phones, or USB devices to negotiate credit and debit transactions. 

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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