Post by Randall Ryder
The House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet has completed a draft of legislation that would outline new parameters on internet privacy. Internet privacy is a hot topic right now, given the recent uproar surrounding Facebook’s privacy issues. Much of the controversy surrounding Facebook was about "opt-in" versus "opt-out" clauses for data privacy.
In an opt-in scenario, users would have to tell sites that they can share their personal information with other companies, or even the internet at large. With an opt-out clause, users would need to proactively tell sites that they do not wish to have their information shared. Most consumers and internet users prefer an opt-in clause, as it allows them more control over their own personal information. Advertisers, on the other hand, prefer an opt-out clause because it provides them access to more information.
In response to the draft of new legislation, at least one lobbyist group, the Interactive Advertising Bureau has already rallied against it. The group’s vice-president says that the group represents smaller scale web businesses, and added that "Once you meet these entrepreneurs, it’s very hard to introduce a piece of legislation that would put a mom and pop shop out of business, potentially . . . ."
For example, the publisher of a website devoted to helping people assemble Ikea furniture claims he would be unduly harmed by any change in the existing law. This particular website makes money off of selling advertisements. In part, the site is able to target certain advertisers because it collects information from users of the site.
The owner of the site says that any new law that requires disclosure to visitors that it is collecting data it would effectively kill the site. The owner of the site thinks consumers would be confused by a warning that their data is being collected, and assume it is being collected for the wrong reasons. The proponent of the bill, however, says any requirement would be made to make consumers feel better about visiting sites and make them more comfortable doing business online.
It seems unlikely that consumers would be scared by a warning saying that if they visit a site, their visitor information might be shared with other parties. A web visitor, without entering information, is unlikely to provide tons of useful information to the actual site. I tend to agree with the bill’s proponent that having the warning would actually make visitors feel better about the sites they are visiting. An upfront declaration at least gives visitors the opportunity to choose whether to use the site, or use a different site that does not collect data.
What do you think? Are these types of warnings needed? Are we sharing too much personal data on the Internet?