Consumer Privacy Protections Need Review, GAO Tells Congress - InformationWeek

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Consumer Privacy Protections Need Review, GAO Tells Congress
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Tom Murphy
Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
11/22/2013 | 1:52:32 PM
Short Arm of the Law
I'm afraid the GAO is about a decade late and a bit myopic in its report on consumer privacy.  Yes, there are needs for greater protections and that has been obvious since the turn of the century.  And yes, it would be nice to see limits on what companies can do, but how would Congress impose those on web publishers outside the US?  Another problem: how could anyone (or any government) hope to retrieve or scrap all the consumer information that has already been gathered and collated. There are corporate and government dossiers now on hundreds of millions -- perhaps billions -- of individuals around the globe. 

Of course, we don't have to go on this way. The questions are what should we do, and how can we bring everyone together to do it?   Any ideas out there?
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/22/2013 | 1:53:31 PM
It's sure to be a mess
"[T]here is a real need to give consumers control of their information when it is used for a purpose beyond that for which it was originally provided" vs. "A one-size-fits-all approach would be overly burdensome and restrictive. They hold that restrictions on the collection and use of personal data would boost compliance costs, inhibit innovation, and keep consumers from receiving relevant advertising and beneficial products and services."

I think these two lines cut to the heart of the matter. Like most debates of this kind, lawmakers are going to debate consumer protection against business interests. Given how recent battles of this sort have played out, I'm not optimistic that lawmakers will have any idea how to handle this one (e.g. "It's prehistoric for companies to discriminate on the basis of gender identity/ sexuality" vs. "If we make it illegal for companies to discriminate, it will invite too many lawsuits, which will hurt businesses and cost Americans jobs," or "we have established a consumer proection agency" vs. "but we don't want to confirm its leader"). It's a complicated issue; consumers are not adequately protected, but I agree that sweeping policies and regulations aren't always the best approach either. Getting anything done will take delicacy, but this issue is, unfortunately, one that can be easily hijacked by ideological jingoism. The fact that this topic involves not only individual vs. business, but also technology - something with which lawmakers are generally inept and short-sighted - only makes the outlook that much messier.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
11/22/2013 | 3:55:37 PM
Re: It's sure to be a mess
Privacy is a thankless debate. Consumers say they want it but act otherwise. Privacy will never be practical online. The Internet is a surveillance system. Governments won't allow it to be any other way and businesses won't offer privacy services because so few will pay. And why offer "secure email" when that really means "secure until legally otherwise"? That said, we do need some rules of the road to avoid having our data strip-mined and sold over and over.
User Rank: Author
12/3/2013 | 8:59:24 PM
Re: A challenge that must be addressed
Bill, thanks for summing up the essence of viewpoints here and keeping the conversation going forward.  At the end of the day, I think consumers would be well served if we as a nation drafted the equivalent of a digital Bill of Rights, that would among other things: allow citizens to 1) be able to search and view the data being captured about them, and 2) have the right to correct or remedy incorrect information about them.

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