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FTC recommendations add fuel to the online privacy inferno

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Juan Martinez, senior editor, Direct Marketing News
Juan Martinez, senior editor, Direct Marketing News

This week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report detailing recommendations for businesses and policymakers on to how to manage consumer privacy. The report offered suggestions that include simplifying opt-in and opt-out and furthering education about data-gathering and usage.

As should be expected from any topic as polarizing as online privacy, the report elicited mixed responses.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, sent The Washington Post a statement that read: “The commission's overall support for industry self-regulation (such as the largely invisible “icon” placed on ads) is disappointing, and reveals a FTC still too often constrained from effectively protecting the public.”

Information Week encouraged the FTC to require “that companies disclose their information-collection practices and provide consumers with the ability to deny such collection. We need transparency combined with optional opacity.”

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation senior analyst Daniel Castro, told Time Magazine's Techland that the FTC's latest rules are “misguided” and that ”The new report shows the FTC still does not understand the fundamental economics of the Internet.”

Some, including Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) House author of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, offered praise for the report.

“In the ever and fast-changing digital landscape, this new FTC report provides stakeholders many useful road signs for how to navigate towards strong online privacy policies in the 21st century, especially for children and teenagers," Markey told PCMag.

Berin Szoka, president of the free-market think tank TechFreedom, told CNet that “a strict Do Not Track rule could harm online advertising — which pays for the costs of innumerable free Web sites — and even sweep in services including Facebook's Like and Google's Plus buttons.”  

"The FTC has wisely decided to steer clear of trying to design a Do Not Track mechanism by itself," Szoka added. "I see this as the FTC deferring to the nerds, and wisely so."

Given that the report offers only recommendations, it's likely we will continue to debate the topic of privacy until clear laws are enacted, laws that will protect consumers while simultaneously enabling advertisers to gather enough data to keep the Internet free.

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