FPF Co-Chair Chris Wolf analyzes the draft Kerry privacy bill

FPF Co-Chair Chris Wolf analyzes the draft Kerry privacy bill circulating around Washington in this blog entry:


FPF Response to New York Times Editorial on Privacy Legislation

Letter to the Editor

The New York Times

620 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10018

We agree with your editorial “A New Internet Privacy Law?” (3/19/11) that minimum standards of privacy are needed. But your reflexive call for a “Do Not Track” provision in whatever law emerges ignores important facts.  A technology solution already has emerged with web browsers that allow consumers to send a “Do Not Track” signal to ad networks, indicating that they don’t want to be targeted with ads based on their web browsing.  It hard to imagine an equally effective legal prescription.  “Do Not Track” sounds deceptively similar to “Do Not Call,” the very effective law where registering phone numbers stops commercial solicitations by phone.

The similarity ends with the nomenclature. It is not easy, and may be impossible, to craft a law that encompasses the many ways in which online activities can be tracked. There is no potential for a government registry of online opt-outs for industry to consult as is there is for phone numbers. Moreover, a one-size fits all Do Not Track law may lead to clever work-arounds by determined online trackers and unintended consequences for the Internet.  There is a role for law to protect online privacy, to be sure, but it is not through Congressional mandates for specific technological fixes.

Christopher Wolf and Jules Polonetsky

Washington, D.C.

The authors are co-chairs of the Future of Privacy Forum think tank.

U.S. Privacy Innovations Spread to the EU

The Financial Times reports that in the EU, Yahoo will provide more information on its websites that shows how the data of users is used to target advertising, by including its “Ad Choices” icon to advertisements on pages such as Yahoo Mail and Messenger.  This is the same innovative icon that is now required by the self regulatory standards U.S. companies are following.  Yahoo was one of the first to test the initial “power I” icon developed by the Future of Privacy Forum more than a year ago, before it evolved in to the “forward I” now being used more broadly.  By clicking on the icon, users can get information on who placed the ad, the reason for why it appeared, and how to opt-out.  And Yahoo, DoubleClick, Blue Kai, Lotame and others are exceeding the current industry standards by showing users their clickstream profiles and allowing them to be edited. 

Interestingly, most EU data regulators would tell you that access to clickstream profiles and such transparency is obligatory under their law and has been required for a decade.  And there are many leading local EU companies doing behavioral advertising in EU countries.  The EuroPrise seal does a great job of scoping leading practices with its few online advertising seal holders, and the European Advertising Standards Alliance is working on guidelines, but most of the local EU advertisers are still working hard to catch up to the leading US practices. 

At a time when the U.S. is being encouraged to adopt more of the baseline protections in the EU Directive, it is good to see that some U.S. innovations are being looked to over there to better empower consumers when it comes to targeted adverting.

FPF 3/1 Webcast: "Social Media, Privacy and the Revolution" featuring Peter Swire and Jeff Rosen