Photo: lovenothing via Flickr
I recently spent some time in Washington, D.C. and met with legislative staffers, regulators, privacy professionals and reps from various industry associations. It was very busy on The Hill, with two hearings on mobile privacy issues – one held by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 10th (see here) followed by another held by the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection on May 19th (see here).
Congressional interest in TRUSTe’s recently completed mobile privacy survey was high, and Senate Judiciary chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), quoted from our survey in his opening remarks at the Judiciary mobile privacy hearing. TRUSTe also submitted testimony to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee regarding “Protection and Privacy in the Mobile Marketplace,” which you can read in its entirety here.
A few observations I took away from the visit:
1. Privacy Has Never Been Bigger. Several individuals expressed to me that they haven’t seen so much activity related to privacy ever. Legislation. Proposed legislation. Draft bills. Hearings and more hearings. FTC enforcement actions. And continued, heavy press coverage.
2. Mobile and Apps Need to Embrace Privacy . . . but it’s too early for regulation. Despite the recent hearings, most legislative staffers recognise that we are too early in the development of the mobile economy and technology to be overly prescriptive. Many also recognised that a lot of mobile app developers are either very small or outside of the US, making regulation a partial solution at best.
I imagine that the mobile app directories and stores will continue to be expected to enforce privacy requirements on their app providers and raise their levels of review. In addition, everyone is hoping, if not expecting, that new solutions to help app developers “build in privacy” through privacy statements and accessible choices will emerge. While location privacy is the first area of concern, advertising and demographic targeting are not far behind.
3. Do Not Track is Not As Easy as it Sounds. There is growing recognition that providing a one-size fits all “Do not Track” is not likely legislatively, thereby putting more focus on browser self-regulation as well as self-regulatory solutions like the DAA’s Self-Regulatory Program for Online behavioural Advertising.
4. Children’s Privacy. There are substantial fears around teens and children’s privacy/safety, especially on smart phones and social networking sites, generating a sub-set of legislative privacy proposals in addition to the expected review of COPPA. Websites and apps that even tangentially market to kids need to take care or face a very difficult environment.
5. Industry, Legislators and Regulators Want Self-Regulation to Work for Online behavioural Advertising and More. Nearly every group I spoke to asked pointed questions about the state of self-regulation, primarily from the perspective of wanting these solutions to work. This reflects broad recognition that even the best regulation alone won’t solve Internet privacy issues. The advertising industry associations that formed the DAA, and the DAA now under the leadership of Peter Kosmala, are extremely dedicated to encouraging if not outright pushing their memberships to adopt DAA self-regulatory program as soon as possible. They are very happy to see TRUSTe’s commitment and momentum as the largest DAA-approved provider of OBA compliance through our TRUSTed Ads technology platform.
6. Going Global. In addition to the limitations of any one legislative solution or even technology solutions, I was surprised to have so many discussions on the activities around international privacy. There is still great confusion regarding the EU “Cookie” law, especially around implementation and enforcement. Some hope that the US, Europe and the Asia Pacific reason will come together with global guidelines, but there is not much confidence that this will occur. Global companies are especially concerned about their ability to manage data practices in the face of differing and sometimes contradictory international compliance frameworks.
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