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The privacy problem is Unauthorized Tracking; the privacy solution is a Meaningful Consent Standard

There was a major tectonic shift in the Internet privacy debate today at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Internet privacy. 

  • Surprisingly strong consensus emerged surrounding Internet privacy that:
    • Behavioral Advertising did have value; 
    • Technology is not the privacy problem with behavioral advertising;
    • The privacy problem is lack of advance meaningful consent by consumers to track their Internet movements and to use their private information; and 
    • Any privacy effort must comprehensively include all Internet players using any Internet technology because consumers don't care about the technology being used, they just care about their privacy being abused.   
  • AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner, three of the four largest American ISPs, all agreed in their collective testimony that any behavioral advertising should involve "meaningful consent" by consumers meaning the customer:
    • Must give advance affirmative consent;
    • Is in control of their private information/behavior; and
    • Enjoys sufficient transparency to manage their privacy.
  • Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge, who was representing the consumer perspective before the Committee, complemented the ISP's for their leadership on this issue, agreed with the need for customer control over privacy, and agreed that any privacy solution needed to be comprehensive covering all Internet technologies. Ms. Sohn summed up her view succinctly: "Don't outlaw technology, outlaw bad behavior." 

The three big take aways from this tectonic shift towards much more consensus surrounding Internet privacy policy:

  1. The Internet privacy problem is Unauthorized Tracking, not any particular technology like, cookies or packet inspection, because consumers/users care about their privacy being protected -- not about the alphabet soup of changing technologies used on the Internet. 
  2. The Internet privacy solution is a Meaningful Consent Standard, because it will enjoy strong mainstream support of consumers and consumer groups, and because it empowers consumers with the control they desire over their private information in the overall Internet environment.
  3. Any legislation involving the Internet in the next Congress that hopes to attract consensus, will have to tackle the Internet privacy problem of Unauthorized Tracking, and offer the solution of a Meaningful Consent Standard.