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    Op-Ed by FTC Chairman: Protecting privacy in a TMI world

    Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who was confirmed by the Senate for a second term last week, discusses the issue of individual privacy in an editorial at the Washington Post. The FTC last week released a new report, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers” (pdf), and Leibowitz talks about the report and what’s needed to better protect individual privacy:

    Over the past decade, as Americans have enthusiastically moved more and more of their lives online — from catching up on the latest NCAA results to buying a car, financing their college education or finding a job — we at the Federal Trade Commission have had to rethink what privacy means: to consider how consumers can continue to enjoy the riches of a thriving, increasingly online and mobile marketplace without surrendering their privacy as the price of admission.

    Last week, the FTC, the nation’s premiere privacy protection agency, tackled that question with a report on the state of the right to privacy, what Louis Brandeis, one of the intellectual fathers of the FTC, called “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” We detailed what we — in the public and private sectors — must do to make sure consumers’ right to privacy remains robust into the 21st century.

    The FTC jumped in at this intersection of high-tech innovation and privacy rights not to erect a stop light but to look at traffic patterns. We asked who should control the personal information that consumers reveal — about sites they view, purchases they make, people they talk to, even physical locations they visit — when they surf the Web or use their mobile devices. [...]

    To ensure that consumers retain control of their personal information, our report lays out three simple but powerful principles for companies to follow when handling consumer data: Incorporate privacy protections into products as they are developed — that is, privacy by design; offer consumers more choice about how their data are collected and used; and provide more transparency with better information explaining to consumers how the companies — including the data brokers who, for the most part, remain invisible to consumers — handle personal information. Our report also renews our call for industry to develop a Do Not Track system that would let consumers choose what information is collected about them online and how it is used. [...]

    The Do Not Track system put in place by industry is not yet easy enough to use nor effective enough at stopping tracking. Social networks and other large platforms struggle with the thin line between sharing information andtoo much information. And too many companies still have not bolstered their privacy practices to withstand the challenges of an increasingly online market.

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