WASHINGTON, July 28, 2010 – The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have formed a task force to deal with online privacy concerns facing American consumers.
At a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing, Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) was concerned that consumers have no idea what type of information is being collected and shared about them or how to stop their information from getting collected. He said he was not concerned about the “savvy computer whiz-kid” or the “lawyer who reads legalese for a living,” but the ordinary internet user with a webmail account and a Facebook page.
Rockefeller said the committee has the duty to make clear to Americans what information is being stored about them, and whether or not they have the power to stop certain information-collecting practices.
FCC Chairman Genachowski said the National Broadband Plan recognizes that even as consumers learn about the benefits of broadband, they are also concerned about their privacy online. The more consumers feel their privacy to be at risk, the less likely they are to utilize broadband tools, which in turn cut down the potential economic benefits of broadband expansion.
He said the FCC is concerned with service providers being transparent about their practices and that those practices protect consumers’ personal data from third parties.
Genachowski also said “the National Broadband Plan reviewed the current regulatory landscape regarding online privacy, and found that the existing framework in some cases is confusing and would benefit from increased clarity.”
He then highlighted the recent creation of a joint task force between the FCC and the FTC to develop new approaches to protecting online privacy.
Genachowski named several organizations and tools available to consumers to assist them with privacy controls. OnGuard Online is a coalition spearheaded by the FTC that gives privacy advice to consumers. Net Cetera is a guide for parents that covers the issues facing children as communications become more digital-based. He also announced the FCC’s launch of an online Consumer Help Center, which allows consumers to access resources for questions and a system for consumers to file complaints.
Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, said they had identified four principles as the basis of their Fair Information Practices approach. The principles were that businesses should notify customers about the information they collect, consumers should be given choices about how their information is used, consumers should have access to data collected about them, and businesses should ensure the security of the information they have collected.
Leibowitz said that consumers do not understand and read through licensing agreements for online services, which often eliminate privacy rights instead of protecting them.
He also said that the FTC continues to pursue the companies that violate current privacy laws. He said the FTC is a small agency by Washington standards, but that they would have more effect if they could levy greater civil fines.
When asked if the FCC or FTC should be the leading agency in privacy efforts, Genachowski said each agency had its own areas of expertise, even where the agencies overlap. He said they would continue to coordinate their education efforts to consumers to ensure the information is not contradictory and comes from a reliable source.