Congressional testimony — WPF executive director Pam Dixon testified at a joint subcommittee hearing focused on privacy and the collection and use of online and offline consumer information. Dixon’s testimony focused on the new “modern permanent record” and how it is used and created. Dixon said “The merging of offline and online data is creating highly personalized, granular profiles of consumers that affect consumers’ opportunities in the marketplace and in their lives. Consumers are largely unaware of these profiles and their consequences, and they have insufficient legal rights to change things even if they did know.” The testimony explored concrete examples of problematic consumer profiling activities.
I am particularly interested in developments related to online and offline data flows of consumer information. Given the advances in technology that have significantly broadened and deepened the scope of consumer data collection practices, and given the new ways that these technologies and practices can shape and impact an individual’s experiences and opportunities, I believe the decisions that this Committee arrives at will be of lasting importance. Given the transition our society is undergoing from analog to digital, it is crucial to question what changes the new environment brings, what new controls it includes, and its meaning for our day-to-day lives. It is especially crucial to carefully examine and to discuss the effects these developments will have for the consumer. We must look for a fair balance between benefit, risk, and harm.
FTC Privacy Roundtable — The World Privacy Forum filed comments last week for the FTC Privacy Roundtables, the first of which will be held December 7, 2009. The WPF comments urged the FTC to consider the Fair Credit Reporting Act as a key privacy model to apply to additional areas, to use the full version of Fair Information Practices, and discussed how a rights-based framework was the key to advancing consumers’ interests. The comments discussed list brokers at length, and explained how even the most informationally cautious consumer will land on numerous marketing lists and databases. The WPF comments noted that not all marketing lists are used to target ads to consumers; some lists and databases are used to deny consumers goods and services. The comments contain a detailed section on privacy frameworks, a section on direct marketing, and an appendix with supporting information.
Data broker opt out issue — The World Privacy Forum sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to look into four companies offering online consumers the ability to opt out, then asking those consumers to use a variety of postal-mail-based methods to do so.
The Commission has laid down specific examples of what constitutes unreasonable opt- out procedures, particularly in its Affiliate Marketing Rule, which describes three distinct types of opt-out methods the Commission considers to be unreasonable. Some companies are ignoring the standards the Commission has set, and are requiring consumers whom they have notified online of an opt-out opportunity to then use paper and postal mail processes to accomplish the opt out.