Feb 23, 2012

What would the impact of a "privacy bill of rights" be on consumers and businesses?

There has been noise lately about a proposed "privacy bill of rights" intended to protect the personal data of individuals. Lot's of dodgy corporate practices have come to light recently: Facebook is seemingly always changing its privacy policy in ways that negate privacy, Google can't stop looking at your browsing history, and there is always our friend malware hanging around peeking in your windows. On the other hand, much of the content that is offered online is subsidized by advertising. So what would the impact of a privacy bill of rights be for consumers and businesses?

I think that there is an inherent tension between online privacy and free commercial content. As noted in the original question, in return for "surrendering" some of our personal information, mostly to be used to maximize effectiveness of advertising, content providers and search engines "give" us their services/products. As with many things in life, it is a tradeoff.

Simply discussing the issue with the intensity we have seen recently is having an impact on consumer privacy. Google has announced that it will ass a "Do Not Track" button to Chrome, and I doubt it is a coincidence that this announcement took place literally hours after President Obama's statement about a proposed "privacy bill of rights." I think at a minimum that individuals should have the option to opt out of being tracked, and it should be easy and transparent.

I do think that it is possible that a "privacy bill of rights" could have unintended negative consequences. If it results in a significant decrease in advertising revenue, there could be an increase in paid only content.
I think it really depends on who writes it. I have little faith that government and corporations alone could do anything worthwhile. The government is pretty much owned by the corporations.

For anything meaningful to happen I think you need participation by privacy advocacy groups. They'll have to take the lead on creating and steering legislation. The people in government probably either don't care or have been bribed by companies to thwart this sort of thing, so it'll be a tough fight regardless.

Hopefully though there will be some sort of legislation that will help protect people.
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