The White House has unveiled a plan to create a “Bill of Rights” for consumer privacy on the Internet, and announced that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have agreed to comply when consumers choose to protect their online tracking habits.
The Bill of Rights is part of a 62-page document [PDF] describing a framework for protecting privacy on the Internet.
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According to the document, “Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World,” the Bill of Rights at the center of this framework embraces privacy principles recognized throughout the world and adapts them to the environment of the commercial Internet. Among them:
- Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data companies collect from them and how they use it
- Consumers have a right to easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices
- Consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data
- Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data
- 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 is inaccurate
- Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain
- 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
The administration also called for Congress to pass legislation that would enforce the Bill of Rights applicable on commercial sectors that are not subject to existing federal data privacy laws.
The Commerce Department will spearhead discussions with stakeholders — including companies, privacy and consumer advocates, international partners, state attorneys general, federal criminal and civil law enforcement representatives, and academics — to create a code of conduct that will ensure that companies adhere to the Bill of Rights.
“Such practices,” the plan said, “when publicly and affirmatively adopted by companies subject to Federal Trade Commission jurisdiction, will be legally enforceable by the FTC.”
“American consumers can’t wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,” President Obama said in statement. “As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That’s why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important.”
The White House privacy plan comes on the heels of revelations that Google was circumventing the privacy protections of Apple’s Safari browser and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
Google was roundly criticized by privacy advocates for its actions, some of whom, along with members of Congress, called for an FTC investigation into the matter.