The White House weighs in

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By Calder Phillips-Grafflin

Protecting the privacy of personal information has always been a problem, but in recent years it has become a major issue. Just last week, in fact, we ran an article on Smartphone applications that gathered personal information.

The privacy of your information is usually controlled under the privacy policy of whichever service provider (Google, for example) you’re using, and almost every provider has a different policy which could be (and often are) completely different.

That may change in the coming months if the Obama administration is successful in passing legislation to implement what it calls the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” (CPBoR) that it unveiled last Thursday.

The CPBoR consists of seven main principles: individual control, transparency, respect for context, security, access and accuracy, focused collection, and accountability. In short, it’s designed to ensure that your personal data is accessible to you, that people who shouldn’t have access to it don’t, that you know the data is being gathered for the right reasons, and that the data is at least fairly accurate.

While the CPBoR isn’t everything that consumer advocates have argued for, it does provide for most of the core issues of accessibility, reasonable collection, and security.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights is an important first step towards building a legal framework for data privacy in the age of the internet and mobile devices, but it’s hard to tell if it will actually lead to a change in the way companies handle personal information. It’s unlikely that companies will change their practices unless they are legally required to, since the costs of complying with the CPBoR could be substantial.

Similarly, it’s likely that these companies, ranging from ad providers to credit rating bureaus will lobby against any new legislation. In the context of election year politics and the inevitable casting of this issue as “government regulation” versus “free market”, don’t hold your breath on seeing the CPBoR turn into real legislation.

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