Introducing Consumer's Online Bill of Rights

2 minute read
Marisa Peacock avatar

What do two former presidential candidates have in common? They are behind The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011, which "establishes a framework to protect the personal information of all Americans both online and offline." Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation this week that sought to define how companies should handle consumers' personal information both online and offline.

Opt-In, Opt-Out, But Do Not Track

You can call it a bipartisan effort aimed at protecting Americans' personal information. Just don’t call it Do Not Track. While the proposed bill will allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to establish the rules governing the collection and use of personally identifiable data, it does not adopt its Do Not Track provision.

Instead, the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights will require that companies that collect users' information must provide clear notice of their practices and provide an option to opt out. For the collection of personally identifiable information, individuals must be asked to opt in. Advertisers are particularly interested because under the legislation, companies who implement a self-regulation program of their own will be given preference by the FTC, provided that their own programs are as strict as those included in the bill.

Such incentive may be why Apple has added a "Do Not Track" Privacy feature to its new Safari browser. Reports indicate that Lion -- the newest version of Apple’s Mac OS X, currently available only to developers -- includes the same “Do Not Track” privacy feature that both Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer launched awhile back.

Learning Opportunities

Too Much Control or Not Enough?

While the bill has the support of the President and Microsoft, eBay, Intel and HP, consumer watchdog groups are not eager to throw their support behind the bill because it would strip both the FTC of its authority to charge online businesses with unfair or deceptive practices in privacy cases and consumers of their right to file lawsuits against companies for privacy violations.

Having been only introduced this week, it will take awhile for the bill to become law. And while supporters and critics debate the legislation’s merits, it may be nearly impossible for this or any bill to meet everyone’s needs. In the meantime, it may persuade companies to initiate and refine their own data collection policies, while educating the rest of us on the ways we can protect our personal information online.