The Boucher Bill

Issues of behavioral advertising and online collection of personally identifiable information have been major issues of late. I previously blogged about behavioral advertising and the different ways online advertisers can track you as you move around the internet. But behavioral advertisers aren’t the only source of concern.

Large social networking sites have access to a bewildering amount of personally identifiable and potentially very private data. Sure they have privacy policies in which they claim to respect your privacy but most of the policies also state that the company can change their privacy policy at any time and the new policy immediately applies to all exiting data they have on you. The EFF recently posted a nice time lapse of Facebook’s privacy policy changes from 2005 to 2010 and the New York times recently showed that the current Facebook privacy policy is longer than the US Constitution.   Amongst its many clauses is the fact that other websites are automatically given access to your data when you use Facebook Connect, developers can infinitely store your data, and any applications your friends use have the right to access and store your data too.

The Boucher Bill is an attempt by law makers to force organizations who collect data online and off to provide informed consent to their consumers. The information law group has an excellent breakdown of the Boucher Bill which is definitely worth a read.

Some major points from the bill:

  • Organizations need to provide privacy policies but they can assume that users who use the service have implicitly consented to the policy (opt-out).
  • The bill requires companies to have users opt-in to major privacy policy changes.
  • Express affirmative consent (opt-in) must be obtained before personal data can be sold to other organizations.
  • Organizations can share personally identifiable information with parents and affiliates without notifying users provided the information is not used for marketing purposes.
  • Organizations must provide the policy and get express consent (opt-in) from customers before collecting any sensitive information such as medial information.
  • Consumers must opt-in to any sharing of location information.
  • Organizations cannot collect information about consumer’s browsing across site behavior unless they obtain express consent from the consumer before collecting information (0pt-in).
  • Organizations collecting information from less than 5,000 people per year are exempt.

Update: The CDT has a set of comments on the Boucher Bill.

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