“Americans have always cherished our privacy. From the birth of our republic, we assured ourselves protection against unlawful intrusion into our homes and our personal papers. At the same time, we set up a postal system to enable citizens all over the new nation to engage in commerce and political discourse. Soon after, Congress made it a crime to invade the privacy of the mails. And later we extended privacy protections to new modes of communications such as the telephone, the computer, and eventually email.” The Whitehouse.
Corporations, without any FTC or privacy advocate oversight, would pretty much invade your online privacy. Most major websites now install cookies on your computer, which, over time, help develop a profile that serves as your digital fingerprint. This is why, after searching for a specific product, you may notice advertisements for that particular product or brand appearing on various other websites. This is generally harmless.
A cookie is a small piece of text or code that is stored on your computer in order to track data. Cookies contain bits of information such as user preferences, shopping cart contents and sometimes user names and passwords. Cookies allow your web browser to communicate with a website. Cookies are not the same as spyware or viruses, although they are related. Many anti-spyware products will detect cookies from certain sites, but while cookies have the potential to be malicious, most are not.
With privacy watchdogs addressing this kind of advertising as a major concern, and the Obama administration now stepping in, we will surely see the implementation of some standards in this kind of marketing practice over the next few years.
The New York Times reports “The Obama administration and the nation’s chief privacy regulator pressed Congress to enact online privacy legislation, saying new laws would level the playing field between companies that already had privacy policies and those that lacked them, and thus escape regulatory oversight.”
The White House has put forward what it calls a Privacy Bill of Rights to provide basic online protection guarantees. Read up, and recognize you have rights.
The Obama Administration’s framework consists of four key elements: A Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, a multi-stakeholder process to specify how the principles in the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights apply in particular business contexts, effective enforcement, and a commitment to increase interoperability with the privacy frameworks of the US’s international partners.