Last week, President Obama unveiled The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, a policy framework designed to provide a "baseline of clear protections for consumers and greater certainty for businesses." The availability and use of consumer data continues to grow. The announcement intends to provide clarity on how companies can use consumer information, and provides consumers with guidelines about their protections and rights. "American consumers can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online," President Obama said in a statement. "As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That's why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important. For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure. By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth."
Rights asserted in the Bill of Rights include:
- Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.
- Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
- Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations 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 are inaccurate.
- Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
- Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
The news comes at a critical time, when consumer concerns about the use of their information is making news. Last week the New York Times ran an in-depth piece about how companies like Target are taking data strategy to the extreme -- it can pinpoint when a woman in pregnant within two weeks, based on data it knows about individual consumers. Behavioral targeting and predictive analytics continue to get more advanced. Therefore, the Obama administration aims to set standards and guidelines for companies on how best to use consumer data responsibly.
The Bill of Rights was developed in conjunction with a number of industry groups, including the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). "But today marks not the end of a journey, but the beginning of an important collaboration among government, business, and consumer organizations to assure that the free Internet - the most vibrant, diverse and decentralized medium ever created - can continue to flourish, in the United States and around the world," said IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg in a statement. He added that the program gives businesses clear ground rules, educates consumers how to protect themselves while taking advantage of interactive media's powerful capabilities, and will promote continual innovation.
Now comes the hard part: implementation and enforcement. The Commerce Department is charged with working with companies, privacy advocates and other stakeholders to develop and implement enforceable privacy policies based on the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. But we agree that this move is a step in the right direction, putting a stake in the ground of what is considered responsible data use by the business world.