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    New York Times: Web Privacy Goes From Regulatory Nuisance to Business Imperative

    The New York Times reports on how some companies are focusing on consumer privacy in an effort to compete:

    SAN FRANCISCO — Privacy is no longer just a regulatory headache. Increasingly, Internet companies are pushing each other to prove to consumers that their data is safe and in their control.

    In some instances, established companies are trying to gain market advantage by casting themselves as more privacy-friendly than their rivals. For example, Mozilla, an underdog in the browser market, suggested last week that it would allow its users to disable third-party tracking software altogether.

    At the same time, Web platform companies are setting limits on other companies with which they do business. Last year, for instance, Apple began requiring applications in its operating system to get permission from users before tracking their location or peering into calendars and contacts stored on an iPhone. […]

    During a panel at the RSA Conference, a security-focused industry gathering here last week, Brendon Lynch, chief privacy officer at Microsoft, declared that companies like his had come to appreciate the “market forces at play with privacy.”

    “It’s not just privacy advocates and regulators pushing,” Mr. Lynch said. “Increasingly, people are concerned more about privacy as technology intersects their life.” […]

    To some degree, these developments signal that the industry is working hard to stave off government regulation, which is moving at a glacial pace anyway. There seems to be no movement on broad privacy legislation on Capitol Hill, and no consensus has been reached on standards for “Do Not Track,” a browser setting that would let Internet users indicate that they did not want their activity tracked by marketers.

    Advertisers have said openly that they will not stop tracking just because a consumer sends a Do Not Track signal through his or her browser. Facebook has said it needs more clarity on whether a Do Not Track signal applies, for instance, to social plug-ins like the Facebook “like” button, which is integrated into millions of Web sites.

    Still, companies are refining the controls users have over their data, on mobile devices as well as on desktop computers.

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