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    Federal Trade Commission Scrutinizes Online Consumer Data Privacy Protections

    The Wall Street Journal reports on the Federal Trade Commission’s renewed interest into protection of consumers privacy online, including the agency’s scrutiny of targeted online behavioral advertising. The New York Times, meanwhile, has an interview with FTC Consumer Protection Chief David Vladeck about online privacy. I’ve often written about the issue, which is garnering a lot of attention. Notably, the online behavioral advertising industry has agreed to new, voluntary regulations — that still fall short in privacy protections.

    The Wall Street Journal reports:

    David Vladeck, the Federal Trade Commission’s new head of consumer protection, is considering whether to throw out current privacy protections that revolve around lengthy disclosure statements that consumers rarely read. What’s unclear is what the FTC would propose instead. […]

    FTC officials say the purpose of their review is to develop broad new policies to protect consumers’ privacy, whether they’re sharing photos on social networks or using cellphone applications to find nearby restaurants. The agency is also considering proposals that would require companies to keep consumer data more secure.

    In the New York Times interview, Vladeck said, “I think that what we tried to do is map out a fairly ambitious agenda going forward to figure out how were going to come up with a new framework for privacy that’s going to endure for at least the next wave of technological development.”

    Vladeck also says that the FTC currently is not “looking to try to promulgate a rule, to prescriptively regulate privacy in electronic media,” but may do so down the line if other options don’t work. There’s also this important exchange:

    Q: When you talk about a clearer notice and consent, in addition to having clearer language, are you suggesting there be a clear opt-in button?

    A: I don’t want to suggest that we’ve prejudged anything. I think the key is transparency across the board, So transparency when the information is being collected, transparency about why it’s being collected. Sometimes you may need opt-in, sometimes you may need opt-out. I don’t know whether we’d gravitate toward a universal opt-in.

    The empirical evidence we’re seeing is that disclosures on their own don’t work, particularly disclosures that are long, they’re written by lawyers, and they’re written largely as a defense to liability cases. Maybe we’re moving into a post-disclosure environment. But there has to be greater transparency about what’s going on. Until I see evidence otherwise, we have to presume that most people don’t understand, and the burden is going to be on industry to persuade us that people really are well informed about this.

    You should read the whole interview. The interview seems to be a companion piece to a story run the day before about Vladeck making a splash at the FTC.

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