Last week, the President publicly unveiled a proposed Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. While the bill language needs some work, the President and his team should be applauded for introducing some good concepts that would improve consumer privacy.
For one, it makes a lot of sense that consumers should understand how their data is collected and used. Reputable companies are transparent with consumers about the ways in which their data may be used and there are multiple ways in which they can (and do) provide consumers with a means to opt-out of various data uses. But there are many companies that aren’t so forthright. Educating consumers is a good first step because the industry won’t fully gain the trust of consumers without first educating them. And without consumer trust, the digital ecosystem can’t flourish.
Another good concept in the Privacy Bill of Rights is the idea of “context,” which again maps back to consumers’ expectations. The bill notes that data collected in one context and then used in another context should be subject to some level of control by the consumer. Depending on the sensitivity of the data and/or its use, this could mean providing the consumer with an opt-out or an opt-in.
By emphasizing the importance of context, the President highlights that fact that every day consumers make conscious and subconscious decisions about whether their favorite websites or digital services provide a sufficient value proposition to continue that relationship. Most consumers are perfectly agreeable to exchanging some of their data for access to free content or to have a more engaging or personalized experience. However the value proposition is eroded when consumers don’t trust that all parties will respect their data–especially if they are not even aware of all the parties that may collect their data. Providing consumers with more controls over unexpected data collection and use would go a long way toward regaining the trust of consumers, which is why we’ve argued for industry to develop a DNT standard.
Finally, the bill notes that de-identified data should be outside the scope of this law. This is an enormously important concept because it allows companies to continue innovating with “big data” sets. By allowing for the use of de-identified data, researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs can better understand how data flows, how it might be used differently and develop new technologies that we cannot even imagine today.
As many have noted–and will no doubt continue to be highly vocal about–the bill has some serious flaws in that some of the definitions are overly broad or seem to contradict the President’s intentions. But there are concepts within the President’s proposal that are well worth discussing. As an industry, we should be taking this proposal very seriously because it’s yet another sign that more work needs to be done to regain the trust of consumers.