Will Congress make Obama’s Privacy Bill of Rights law?

Getting a divided Congress to pass any hard-edged privacy legislation is the next big hurdle President Obama faces in getting his Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights made the law of the land.

“We urge the Administration to ensure that it carries out this process in a fair and transparent manner, and that consumer voices are heard and acted on,” Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection at Consumer Federation of America, adds:

In an unusual move, the White House convened a press conference at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday to announce the details, imposing an embargo – which all media outlets accepted without question – to midnight. Here are the seven rights:

  • 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.

Watering down

Simpson

“The real question is how much influence companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook will have intheir inevitable attempt to water down the rules that are implemented and render them essentially meaningless,” says John Simpson, spokesman for Consumer Watchdog. ” I am skeptical about the ‘multi-stakeholder process’, but am willing to make a good faith effort to try it.

Simpson and others remain concerned about the Commerce Department’s role in shaping consumer privacy protections. ” Commerce’s job — quite correctly — is to promote the interests of business, not protect consumers,” he says. “If nothing else, the report demonstrates the growing concern about online privacy. Perhaps this is one of the few issues where true bipartisan action will be possible this year.”

As proposed by the White House, the bill of recognizes the need to for heightened protections for children and teens on the Internet.

“If we want to ensure that the Internet economy continues to be strong and vital, consumers need to be able to trust that the information collected about them will not be misused. This announcement sets the stage for that to begin to happen,” says Ellen Bloom, Senior Director of Federal Policy for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.

Power moves

The next steps will entail Washington D.C.-style power brokering, says Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Chester

“The new framework largely depends on the development of voluntary codes of conduct, to be negotiated between consumer groups and companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and others, Chester says. “Consumers groups will engage in these negotiations in good faith. But we cannot accept any ‘deal’ that doesn’t really protect consumers, and merely allows the data-profiling status quo to remain.”

Another part of the White House privacy framework calls for the Digital Advertising Alliance to add to its efforts to self-police its members by improving  an existing Do Not Track mechanism many of its members already make available to consumers.

” The plan by the DAA to add Do-Not-Track to its self-regulatory system could derail a promising privacy effort by the Worldwide Web Consortium standards group (W3C) that is being designed to give consumers greater control over data collection,” contends Chester. “The new DAA scheme will enable companies to continue to collect profiling data on users, and merely prevent the delivery of targeted ads. DAA members are terrified about the development of a DNT system with teeth, which would stop so much data collection, profiling and tracking.”

California cracks down

On a parallel track, the Associated Press reports that  California is cracking down on invasive mobile apps.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is calling for the tech giants vying in the mobile space — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon Research In Motion and Hewlett-Packard  — as well as thousands of mobile app developers to give people advance warning before extracting and storing sensitive information from smartphones and tablet PCs.

Harris began discussing the need for better privacy protections with six powerful companies that have shaped the mobile computing market, spawning nearly 1 million applications over the past four years, the AP reports.

“We are assuming everyone is going to cooperate in good faith and not get cute,” Harris told AP reporter Mike Liedtke.

Harris , a Democrat, is taking her stand out west, at the same time fellow Californian, Mary Kay Bono, a Republican Congresswoman, and several other Republican lawmakers are clamoring for more details about Google and Facebook conduct online tracking. The tech giants put themselves in the spotlight by recently announcing new initiatives to extend how they index and cross-reference data about what consumer do on their PCs and mobile devices.

Google has begun rolling out a new user privacy policy that will make it easier for the search giant to correlate information about anyone who uses multiple Google services, such as Google search, plus Gmail, Google Apps, YouTube, Picasa or Google+.  Facebook is rolling out a new user interface — Timeline — that makes it easier to search and digest chronologically-assembled data about a person. Each is trying to out do each other in a race to sell more online advertising. Each insists  they  provide consumers with ample choice and control over such tracking data.