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Privacy Bill of Rights running to catch up to mobile apps, and more!

The first meeting in a series to decide concrete enforcement measures for President Barack Obama’s digital “Privacy Bill of Rights has been announced for July 12, 2012, and its focus is on mobile apps. According to CNET News:

The National Communications and Telecommunication Administration <NTIA>  (U.S. Department of Commerce) has decided that it’s time to put President Obama’s Privacy Bill of Rights into practice.

Actually, it is years PAST time, but I am happy that the process has started. I find the use of “Privacy Bill of Rights” ironic, since much of modern government, involving BOTH major parties, has focused on the erosion of the ACTUAL Bill of Rights.

The NTIA has just invited all “privacy stakeholders” to “generate robust input” for the first ever consumer data transparency code of conduct.

Have you ever noticed how the U.S. government is INCREASINGLY using the meaningless buzzwords of “business speak?” :-) It reminds me very much of the Firesign Theatre‘s radio announcement of “… the merger of the U.S. Government with TMZ General Corp.”)

The focus of the first privacy multi-stakeholder process is mobile app transparency. (Whatever THAT is!) CNET says:

Multi-stakeholders are defined as consumer groups, advertisers, and Internet companies.

Don’t panic! CNET authors MEANT “to be” instead of “as.” See what trouble we can encounter when reporters can’t write in English and government agencies invent and define new terms? :-)

“Although other possible topics were suggested and may be pursued in future multi-stakeholder convenings, the mobile app transparency topic presents a strong opportunity for stakeholders to reach consensus on a code of conduct in a reasonable time frame,” the NTIA said in its announcement.

In the announcement section entitled “Background,” the NTIA states:

The White House’s Privacy Blueprint contains a number of key elements, including: (1) a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which is a set of principles the Administration believes should govern the handling of personal data in commercial sectors that are not subject to existing federal privacy statutes; and (2) a multistakeholder process, which NTIA will convene, to develop legally enforceable codes of conduct that specify how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies in specific business contexts.

NTIA’s Request for Comments stated “NTIA’s role in the privacy multistakeholder process will be to provide a forum for discussion and consensus-building among stakeholders.” In situations in which stakeholders disagree over how best to interpret the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, NTIA’s role, as explained in the Privacy Blueprint, ‘‘will be to help the parties reach clarity on what their positions are and whether there are options for compromise toward consensus, rather than substituting its own judgment.’’

The Request for Comments noted that stakeholder groups convened to develop codes of conduct will not be advisory committees, as neither NTIA nor any other Federal agency or office will seek consensus advice or recommendations on policy issues from participants in the privacy multistakeholder process.  NTIA sought comments on “what issues should be addressed through the privacy multistakeholder process” and “how stakeholder discussions of the proposed issue(s) should be structured to ensure openness, transparency, and consensus-building.” More than eighty commenters filed responses to the Request for Comments. Individuals and entities in the commercial, academic, civil society, and government sectors filed comments.

CNET notes that:

The NTIA’s first invitation to comment, in March, saw an overwhelming amount of concern about mobile applications because

(…) practices surrounding the disclosure of consumer data privacy practices do not appear to have kept pace with rapid developments in technology and business models.

No kidding!

CNET also discusses the effects of widespread publicity about Apple’s (and many others’) mobile tracking lawsuit:

The now-famous lawsuit, still in progress, was filed in April, and 18 companies were sued over app privacy including Apple, Facebook, Google, Path, Beluga, Yelp, Burbn, Instagram, Foursquare Labs, (the now-defunct) Gowalla, Foodspotting, Hipster, LinkedIn, Rovio Mobile, ZeptoLab, Chillingo, Electronics <sic>Arts, and Kik Interactive.

The lawsuit raised awareness that innocuous seeming apps like Instagram, Foursquare, Foodspotting, and Yelp scrape phones to send names, e-mail addresses and/or phone numbers from users’ address books to their servers.

Instagram and Foursquare began to notify users with a permission prompt only after the Path debacle, according to VentureBeat.

A second, similar privacy lawsuit has recently been filed against Apple, Pandora, and The Weather Channel over user location data.

The NTIA multi-stakeholder privacy meeting will decide a code of conduct for app makers and much more: its intent is to create a blueprint for data transparency and also make a clear set of rules for app makers to stay within to remain out of trouble a la privacy lawsuits.

What do I think (so far)? A clear set of rules and guidelines in this (new) area of law would be helpful to all parties. Do I think that the process will protect your privacy from government entities? No. The process MAY help to protect the privacy of KNOWLEDGEABLE customers who choose to restrict the access of COMMERCIAL entities to their “private” personal data, and THAT is clearly a step forward.

-Bill at

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