This week, the White House announced a framework to protect consumer privacy in the digital age of smartphones and constant Internet access. The voluntary corporate guidelines called the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights "give consumers clear guidance on what they should expect from those who handle their personal information, and set expectations for companies that use personal data."
For now, the Federal Trade Commission will monitor those companies who voluntarily agree to these terms, though President Obama stresses in the document that he hopes to see Congress pass official legislation protecting the public's online privacy and personal data. We may be months away from seeing the real-world implications of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, but here's what you need to know about how each principle outlined by the president may affect your future online presence.
"Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data companies collect from them and how they use it."
Companies should offer clear options for the public to make decisions about the personal information collected and used for business purposes. The tools for later withdrawing or limiting consent should be as easily accessible as were the methods of initial sign-up and granting of private data use.
How This Effects You: For example, there's no obvious deletion button for those who want to remove Facebook. With this principle, a data deletion feature would be easily accessible.
"Consumers have a right to easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices."
Companies should ensure all privacy practices are understandable by the public. Clear descriptions of exactly what data is collected, why it's used, for how long, when it will be deleted, and whether it's shared with outside parties should be provided to customers.
How This Effects You: Forget complicated, 20-page-long privacy policies; companies adhering to these standards would explain where your information is being used in normal, nontechnical-jargon language.
Follow the break to learn how the five other points on the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights will affect you.
Respect For Context
"Consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data."
If companies are using a consumer's data for reasons that are not consistent with the context in which the data is provided, the business should disclose these additional purposes to the user. Further attention should be paid to this principle of context when it comes to any information obtained from children and teenagers.
How This Effects You: Many companies including social networks and credit providers provide your data to advertisers or marketers for a profit; you'll be clearly notified when these practices are in place.
"Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data."
Particularly important when it comes to sensitive financial details, companies should maintain safeguards to control breaches of personal data and recognize the privacy and security risks of their internal personal data practices as it relates to the unauthorized use of a consumer's information.
How This Effects You: We hope companies with access to highly sensitive data like bank accounts are already erring on the side of intense security, but there have been so many breaches in the last year that a security standard was employed by large companies.
Access and Accuracy
"Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data is inaccurate."
Consumers have the right to access and correct their recorded personal data from companies, especially when this information may have negative consequences for the person.
How This Effects You: Until now, we haven't been privy to exactly what data companies have recorded about us — here's our chance. This may even have broader implications for significant data: for instance, will this mean that all those hidden details that determine our credit score will finally be revealed?
"Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain."
Companies should only collect as much of your personal data as needed to accomplish whatever service it is they are providing. Once the data is no longer needed, a company should securely dispose of it, unless it is needed for legal reasons.
How This Effects You: We're always surprised by the number of apps that want to use location tracking for seemingly no reason. The principle of Focused Collection would keep something like a video game app from accessing your phone's address book if the game has no social play aspects.
"Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights."
Employees of these companies handling personal digital data should be properly trained to adhere to the guidelines, with the company maintaining its own accountability through audits that ensure the privacy principles are maintained.
How This Effects You: Unless this Bill of Rights actually becomes a law, tracking corporate accountability of these practices is just something consumers will have to take a company's word on.