Euro-Style Online Privacy Protection

Concern is growing over online privacy, but don't expect Congress to import Euro-style, comprehensive privacy regulation.Update on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 1:00PM by CFM team

Privacy Rules Urged on Supercookies

September 27, 2011 –A bipartisan House privacy caucus has urged the Federal Trade Commission to look into the use of "supercookies" by websites such as Hulu.com and MSN.com.

Congressmen Ed Markey, (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), who co-chair the privacy caucus, told the FTC they believe supercookies, which recreate online user's profile information even after the user has deleted traditional cookies, may constitute an unfair and deceptive trade practice. Barton said, "I think supercookies should be outlawed because their existence eats away at consumer choice and privacy." Concern about supercookies was fueled by findings from research conducted at Standard University and the University of California, Berkeley, and reported recently by the Wall Street Journal.

—End Update—

A U.S. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is examining Europe's comprehensive approach to privacy protection, but some legal experts doubt whether Euro-style privacy regulation could win support in the United States.

 

Minnesota Law School Professor Bill McGeveran tells John Moe of Marketplace Tech Report, "Europeans see privacy as part of a bundle of fundamental human rights and they regulate it the same way they regulate lots of other things — with centralized structures that would look bureaucratic to an American point of view."

Nevertheless, concern is growing in the United States over online privacy, especially in the social media space. There are U.S. laws to protect health care and credit card information, as well as video privacy restrictions. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act applies to children ages 13 or younger. But there is no comprehensive privacy protection.

The main energy to address online privacy in the United States is coming from competition between Facebook and Google as they offer users more ways to guard access to their information and there "public" places to interact with friends and family members.

"In the United States, we regulate sector by sector and there are notable gaps," says University of California, Berkeley Law Professor Paul Schwartz. Adds McGeveran, "The European approach is to have global data protection rules that cover all industries online and offline in a uniform way, and I don't think you're going to see that in the United States."

Moe predicts the congressional hearings won't produce any significant, comprehensive online privacy legislation. "Don't expect to see anything imported over here any time soon."

Meanwhile, some people are becoming more careful what they post on their social media sites — or whether to remain on them at all. One blogger wrote earlier this year:

"I became concerned with sharing everything with everyone. Photos and profile information weren't a big deal. My main concern was my Facebook wall. I was receiving wall posts that should have been sent with some discretion or via an appropriate source like email. I was being tagged in photos that I personally wouldn't have made public — nothing to be censored, just old photos that I wish to have kept private. When I couldn't figure out how to control my public image, I deleted my Facebook account."