Federal regulations on privacy may be coming soon

The New York Times is reporting an increase in activity in Washington taking aim at the current morass that is internet privacy.  This is exciting news, not because we have any idea which camp will win: business interests who use personal activity and demographic information to sell ads that keep services free or low-cost, or privacy advocates who argue too much information is tracked and shared without the users knowledge.  The current system is clearly broken, given the frequency of privacy breaches and steady inflow of emails I get informing me of policy changes (that’s just from Paypal, who actually sends notices after they got nailed in Comb v. Paypal a few years back–most sites change their policies without notice). 
I’m all for businesses being able to keep using site visits and habit info to improve ad delivery.  I like free services and it’s easy enough with most new browsers to disable tracking if you don’t want all your ads to reflect your carnal habits.  What I would really like to see, however is a requirement for consistency and clarity in privacy agreements.  Right now, too many agreements are organized in it completely different ways from others, making it nearly impossible to differentiate between one potentially agreeable contract and one that is less so.
I see little downside to companies if they have to adhere to a common format or layout.  It makes it easier to read and understand if you just have to look for the differences rather than read the entire thing every time you go to a new site or service.  It should be easier on their lawyers, too, which would lower costs and increase certainty that it wouldn’t get challenged in court.
Information is power and it’s time consumer got a little more of both.

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About Justin Kwong

An attorney in the Twin Cities and adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law where I teach a seminar on the law of virtual worlds.
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