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5 Things Businesses Must Know about New FTC Privacy Rules

Privacy is important, even to U.S. denizens. Unfortunately, much of the convenience that consumers love comes at the expense of their personal privacy. Google couldn’t give custom search results without collecting all kinds of specific information about the person conducting the search. But Google has a habit of sharing users’ information with third-party organizations that may have lax or even non-existent security policies regarding consumers’ personal data.

In February 2012, the White House issued a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The top five provisions in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights are:

  • Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data companies collect from them and how they use it.
  • Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data is inaccurate.

Those familiar with Canada’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) will notice some similarities not only in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights but also in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 72-page Final Commission Report on Protecting Consumer Privacy that the agency issued in March 2012.

“If companies adopt our final recommendations for best practices – and many of them already have – they will be able to innovate and deliver creative new services that consumers can enjoy without sacrificing their privacy,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a press release on the FTC website.

Leibowitz went on to offer his assurance that later in 2012, U.S. consumers will also have a Do Not Track option that prevents advertisers from tracking consumers’ Web activity without their permission. Right now, the only protection consumers have is the private browsing features on their Web browsers.

A few highlights of the FTC’s report are:

  • Privacy by Design - Companies should build in consumers’ privacy protections at every stage in developing their products. These include reasonable security for consumer data, limited collection and retention of such data and reasonable procedures to promote data accuracy.
  • Simplified Choice for Businesses and Consumers - Companies should give consumers the option to decide what information is shared about them and with whom. This should include a Do-Not-Track mechanism that would provide a simple, easy way for consumers to control the tracking of their online activities.
  • Greater Transparency - Companies should disclose details about their collection and use of consumers’ information and provide consumers access to the data collected about them.

Having custom search engine results is nice; having random advertisers plug ads for products and services that you may neither want nor need is not so nice. And even worse is having a company with which you’ve entrusted your personal information sell or even give that information to other companies without your knowledge or permission.


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