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Is Online Privacy Finally Becoming a Reality?

by Larry Magid

It’s too early to know if either of these will make a difference, but back-to-back announcements from the California Attorney General and the White House give me some hope that we may finally be entering a period where people can have at least some control over their personal information.

On Wednesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a deal with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, and Research In Motion that would require app developers to abide by California’s existing privacy law (click here for details and my podcast interview with Harris). But the big act came on Thursday when the Obama administration released its Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World report (PDF) that includes a proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that the administration plans to send to Congress.

If enacted by Congress, the bill of rights would give users a great deal more control over their personal informatoin and would hold companies accountable to enforcement authorities if they failed to live up to their privacy standards.

So far, the reaction to the proposal is pretty positive. Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center ( was impressed by the President’s proposals. “I thought it was a great statement, the President expressed a strong commitment to updating and expanding privacy rights for Americans and that has to be very good news,” he said in an interview. Scroll down to listen to entire 9-minute interview.

More to come

This is not the end of the story. Now Congress has to act on the White House’s proposals and companies need to show that they can abide by the recommendations and their own agreements. Congress faces the delicate task of legislating privacy without stifling innovation. I’m quite sure it can be done (I hardly think they’ll put the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple out of business) but it will take cooperation from all stakeholders, a watchful government and an informed user-base to make it all work

EPIC's Marc Rotenberg

Listen to podcast interview with EPIC’s Marc Rottenberg

The “bill of rights” calls for 

  • Individual Control
  • Transparency
  • –Easily understandable
  • Respect for Context
  • –Companies will collect, use & disclose in context of how data is to be used
  • Security
  • Access and Accuracy
  • –Right to access our own data
  • •Focused Collection
  • –Reasonable limits on data that companies collect and retain
  • Accountability
  • –Companies accountable to enforcement authorities

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