Obama, Commerce Department Enter Online Privacy Fray

The number of cooks stirring the pot of Internet privacy regulation continues to rise. The U.S. Commerce Department will soon publish a report finding that self-regulation has failed to date, and the White House is getting involved as well by setting up a task force to focus on the issue, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Obama’s group is to be led by Cameron Kerry, general counsel for the Commerce Department, and Christopher Schroeder, assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, according to the story. The task force was set up in October.

It’s not clear whether the White House’s involvement will result in new legislation, or what impact its interest may have on pending legislation now working its way through the House of Representatives. In July, Rep. Bobby Rush, who sits on the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, introduced a bill that calls for the Federal Trade Commission to be the enforcer of new rules that create an opt-out standard – an outcome preferred by the interactive ad industry.

What is clear is that the number of parties showing interest in online consumer privacy continues to rise, which may slow down the process of implementing any legislation.

The Commerce Department enters the fray as the FTC prepares to release its own report, and the two documents are bound to compete for the attention of lawmakers. While the content of the Commerce Report remains a mystery, it is said to favor a form of self-regulation – which is the FTC’s position as well.

Some online ad pros see the passage of aggressive privacy legislation as inevitable in the long run. Eric Picard, a longtime Microsoft executive who is now chief product officer of ad technology firm Traffiq, believes the U.S. may follow the path of the European Union in requiring an opt-in for cookie-based ad targeting.

“I personally can’t imagine a world where FTC doesn’t regulate – [where it] doesn’t say people have to opt in to be behaviorally targeted,” he said earlier this week.

Picard made the comment about the FTC before the Commerce Department emerged as a dark horse in the online privacy debate. Until this summer, the issue has been mainly the responsibility of the FTC. The Commerce Department is home to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office, and several other bureaus.

 

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