Obama Weighs In on Privacy

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Obama Weighs In on Privacy

The Obama Administration introduced a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which provides a "baseline of clear protections for consumers and greater certainty for businesses." "American consumers can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online,said President Obama. "As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy. That's why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important." The first right ensures that consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.

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Do Not Track

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL, which account for nearly 90 percent of online behavioral advertisements, have agreed to comply when consumers choose to control online tracking. They will answer to the FTC if they transgress the Do Not Track rules. "It's great to see that companies are stepping up to our challenge to protect privacy so consumers have greater choice and control over how they are tracked online. More needs to be done, but the work they have done so far is very encouraging," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. Google, which had been slow to embrace this policy compared to Mozilla, agreed to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

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Forrester Through the Trees

Of course, we're not sure yet what enforcement actions the FTC will take for Do Not Track. In a blog post intended for online marketers, Forrester Research analyst Fatemeh Khatibloo noted the glory days of scraping customer data and reselling it are over. "You need to be paying attention, and making organizational changes, because we're still waiting for the FTC's Do Not Track regulations (expected any day now), and we anticipate that those requirements will be far more stringent than the White House's Bill of Rights."

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Californias Mobile Apps Privacy Play

California's Attorney General Kamala Harris Feb. 22 secured promises from Google, Apple, Amazon, RIM, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard to improve privacy protections for consumers who access the Web through applications on their smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. Considering the online world is increasingly moving to mobile, this is a big deal. Harris' move came days after the FTC released a report that mobile apps privacy controls for children were poor.

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What Do 36 State AGs Have in Common?

Also on Feb. 22-we told you it was a huge privacy day-attorneys general for dozens of U.S. states sent this letter to Google CEO Larry Page, expressing their concern about the company's planned privacy policy changes, which include streamlining 60 product policies under one umbrella plan. The move will also allow Google to federate data across multiple Web services. Users can tag along or opt out of using Google's Web service, though the AGs disagree. They wrote: "It rings hollow to call their ability to exit the Google products ecosystem a ‘choice' in an Internet economy where the clear majority of all Internet users use-and frequently rely on-at least one Google product on a regular basis."

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It's fitting then that the conversation turns to Google, which appears to have flouted user privacy by <href="/c/a/Search-Engines/Congressmen-Query-Google-Over-Apple-Safari-Cookie-Tracking-393575/">circumventing Apple's Safari cookie prevention, as discovered by a Stanford University graduate student and first reported by The Wall Street Journal last week. Google and a few other advertising companies have secretly tracked the Web-browsing habits of millions of people using Apple's Mac computers, iPhones and iPad tablets. Apple's Safari browser is designed to prevent such monitoring to preserve user privacy, but Google and others have figured out a way to trick the browser into allowing the tracking via advertising cookies. Google has called the tracking inadvertent and disabled the offending cookies.

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Its Too Late

Of course, Google and Apple are mobile platform rivals, and just as some folks eschew Apple products for politics, some folks might not like Google interfering with their beloved Apple products. To wit, Google has been sued by computer users in Missouri and Illinois who claimed their privacy rights were violated when the search giant sidestepped Safari's control settings. The plaintiffs accuse Google of violating wiretapping laws.

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Apples Third-Party Privacy Politics

Apple meanwhile was also on the hot seat in February after it was discovered Path, Foodspotting and other makers of iOS applications store users' address books on remote servers without users' explicit permission. Apple backtracked and changed its policy to be more protective of user data.

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