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FTC issues guidance on online privacy

Businesses and policymakers take heed
Tue Mar 27 2012, 09:49

TRADE WATCHDOG the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released its best practice guidelines for companies and organisations that deal with consumer data and privacy.

The report, called "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers" is what it says it is, a set of proposals. It recommends that the US Congress, the policymakers in question, consider things like do-not-track, general privacy, data security and breach notification legislation.

"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.

"We are confident that consumers will have an easy to use and effective Do Not Track option by the end of the year because companies are moving forward expeditiously to make it happen and because lawmakers will want to enact legislation if they don't."

The recommendations are startlingly obvious. The FTC promotes privacy design, meaning that companies should build privacy protection into their products and offer simplified privacy options and greater transparency over what type of personal information is shared. We would hope that these are becoming standard by now.

Do not track, an idea that has some traction among web firms and the US executive branch, could be ready by the end of the year, according to the FTC document, where it commends the W3C on its work in the area.

Here, the FTC has the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is pretty happy with the recommendations overall.

"In general, we're pleased by the new privacy framework set forth by the Commission. We hope Congress, the Commerce Department, and industry figures will turn to it as they continue crafting policy around user data in coming years," reads the response on the EFF web site. "But we will continue to monitor how such principles are actually enacted."

Self governance and better education are the order of the day, and the FTC said that it will hold workshops for involved parties later this year and promote self-regulation in industry. µ


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