The Federal Trade Commission just released its latest report on the state of online consumer privacy protections. Echoing a report from December 2010, the agency paints a bleak picture of a data mining industry that has exploded over the last decade around the harvesting of personal data that is automatically collected by the websites and browsers consumers use everyday.
The report makes three specific recommendations aimed at those industries that collect and distribute consumer data:
- Privacy by Design – companies should build in consumers’ privacy protections at every stage in developing their products. These include reasonable security for consumer data, limited collection and retention of such data, and reasonable procedures to promote data accuracy;
- Simplified Choice for Businesses and Consumers – companies should give consumers the option to decide what information is shared about them, and with whom. This should include a Do-Not-Track mechanism that would provide a simple, easy way for consumers to control the tracking of their online activities.
- Greater Transparency – companies should disclose details about their collection and use of consumers’ information, and provide consumers access to the data collected about them.
The report goes on to stress the importance in Do Not Track mechanisms being included in browsers and common web services like the Google search engine. According to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, “Simply put, your computer is your property; no one has the right to put anything on it that you don’t want. So we also urge industry to continue to move forward with a Do Not Track system that would let consumers choose what information is collected about them online and how it’s used.”
The report stops short of proposing federal regulation of the industry, but Leibowitz has promised that if companies continue to collect, distribute and profit off of user data without transparency, the agency would recommend strict regulations for Congressional consideration.