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Friday, July 23, 2010

Words you don’t want to hear from the FTC: current privacy laws aren’t working

In a Calgary, Alberta meeting this past June, a representative from the Federal Trade Commission said bluntly that the current privacy laws are not protecting American consumers. In fact, they place too much of a “burden” on them. Kathryn Ratte describes privacy laws as a “constellation,” which “in some very basic sense isn’t working.”

The FTC is charged with keeping the consumer safe from the bad guys who want to steal your personal identity, among a host of other issues. It was hoped that, with a Democratic administration favoring the individual compared to the GOP that heavily favors big business, progress would be made.

The FTC’s biggest accomplishment recently is the Do-Not-Call registry, established in 2004, which stopped objectionable and obtrusive junk telephone calls. This, of course, was under a Republican administration.

Ratte says that the FTC has “put too much burden on the consumers to understand these policies.” That is certainly true considering the scope of privacy reaching from financial to health to children and so on. A person’s privacy is one of, if not the most, prized possession they have. And, unfortunately, many are completely apathetic about protecting it, as evidenced with the overwhelming willingness to share their personal data today.

A report the FTC is preparing for Congress lists several issues where new laws are recommended, noting an expansion of the agency’s authority over “deceptive” Internet-related business practices. Some of the issues, according to CNET News, include the urging of companies to develop better data breach protection of their customers. Should more “opt-in” for participation be considered? Should health and financial data be regulated more vigorously than the rest?

Another very important issue is those consumers who are vulnerable like children, particularly the elderly. Con artists have concentrated on this older age group for years and so far only a few organizations have placed emphasis in this area; the American Assn. of Retired Persons (AARP) and the FBI to name a couple.

And finally the FTC is recognizing the need to target what is called “cloud” computing services where your private information is collected and stored, sometimes shared with others without your knowledge. Facebook and its privacy snafus are a prime example of this.

I’ll go one step further and say that more control over consumers’ names and personal data should be in their hands on the individual level, and make it their responsibility to monitor it for their own protection. The jury has been out on this concept of mine for several years now, and this may very well increase the consumer’s burden Platte mentions earlier. But who better to manage this treasure chest?

Visit the FTC Consumer Protection site

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