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This Week in Washington: Privacy and the “Power i”

privacyBelieve it or not, something other than healthcare and jobs was on the minds of policymakers in Washington this week. For tech wonks, the week was largely about privacy. Events on both coasts demonstrate that privacy policy is moving in all directions and that there are many cooks in this kitchen. While Congressional lawmakers seem intent on regulating privacy based on the musty concepts of notice, choice, opt-in and opt-out, the FTC appears to be setting its sights on where the debate is moving –think… cloud, social media and wireless—with industry groups weighing in too.
First up was Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA) who announced this week that a draft of his long anticipated privacy legislation would be released “soon.” Based on Rep. Boucher’s past comments, we can expect that the legislation will mandate additional disclosures for online privacy notices and create new opt-in/opt-out regimes. It is anticipated that this legislation will apply both to offline as well as online data collection and use–a matter that will broaden the impact of the bill, especially for the real estate industry.
At a workshop in Berkeley, CA later this week, the FTC examined how social media, mobile networking and cloud computing are impacting consumer privacy. Director of Consumer Protection, David Vladeck kicked off the event with comments focused on how consumers have little understanding of data collection practices whether they are offline or online. The FTC intends to do something about that. New rules from the agency are expected this summer.
Social Media Joins the Privacy Fray
A particularly animated (I don’t get to use that adjective very often) moment during the regulatory workshop happened during a panel discussion on privacy and social media when ACLU lawyer Chris Conley confronted his former colleague and current Facebook attorney Tim Sparapani. Conley presented Sparapani with petition signed by 50,000 Facebook users complaining that the company’s privacy settings create an “app gap”. The complaint is that third-party applications—like “What’s Your Mental Disorder” gets not only your information (age, gender, relationship status) but all your friends’ info who use Facebook’s default privacy settings.

The Power “i” and Behavioral Advertising
The practice of behavioral advertising is always a favorite topic of privacy discussions. This is the marketing practice whereby advertisers choose which ads to display based on the websites an individual has visited. Congress and the FTC are wrestling with how to educate and protect consumers without unreasonably restricting the advertising industry. The advertising industry itself has offered up the “Power i” a white ” i” icon surrounded by a blue background. The icon will be added to most online ads by this summer to give consumers information about why they are seeing a particular ad. When a consumer clicks on the icon they will be taken to a page explaining how the advertiser uses their web surfing history and demographic information to serve them ads. The icon is set to hit ads at about the same time that the FTC is ready to release proposed regulations.

So what say you AG community? Do consumers need more privacy protection? A different kind of privacy protection regime? What about the “Power i”? Will it help? Is more needed?

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Written By

Melanie is the Senior Technology Policy Representative at the National Association of Realtors. That means she lobbies Congress and Federal Agencies on technology policy issues of importance to the real estate industry. In her pre-NAR life Melanie has been a practicing attorney and a software start-up executive. Like any native Californian, Melanie loves good wine and bountiful farmers markets.

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