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Online privacy debate heats up

From legislators to regulators to consumer and privacy advocates, the public policy debate about the future of online privacy is heating up. Over the past year, a number of new proposals and hearings have taken place to examine the collection and use of consumer information. Policy makers are attempting to find the right balance of encouraging online innovation while protecting personal information. 

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a series of day-long roundtable meetings to examine the privacy challenges created by new technology. Part of the discussion focused on the business practices of data brokers, particularly how consumer information is used. The roundtable meetings covered a wide array of topics, from social networking to online advertising and mobile marketing, and brought together representatives from business, academics and consumer groups. The FTC is now working on a report that will outline the issues and concerns raised during the series and make a number of recommendations for Congress to consider when drafting new privacy laws.

In the meantime, Congress has already begun to draft legislation. After several years of discussing privacy legislation, a long-awaited draft was released in May. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA) released the draft in order to start discussions on crafting legislation. In its current form, the bill would require Websites to provide enhanced notice about how they use consumer information and obtain a user’s consent before collecting sensitive information or sharing data about a consumer with some third parties. The draft would also require companies to "conspicuously" display a clearly written, understandable privacy policy that explains how information about individuals is collected and used. Still, the bill’s complexity is making many in the industry cautious about long-term effects. Members and staff are currently reviewing the comments and may introduce a new version of the bill later this fall, although it is very unlikely that legislation will be enacted this year.  


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