New Congress Focuses on Online Privacy


Washington — It didn’t take long for the
online privacy issue to heat up in the new
session of Congress.

On the House side, Rep. Ed Markey (DMass.)
last week circulated draft legislation
aimed at mobile tracking software, while in the
Senate, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) held a hearing
on a house-passed amendment that would
make it easier for online video distributors to
share information about users’ video choices.

Those were just two of the most prominent
of a series of brushfires and signal flares on the
online data privacy front. Here’s a handy guide
to what went on during a week thick with online
privacy and data security news:

Is Three a Crowd?
A bill that would allow
Netflix to secure a blanket agreement from
users to share their choice of video rentals
with third parties looks like it will get more
scrutiny in the Senate than it did in the
House. HR 2571, which amends the Video
Privacy Protection Act to allow for blanket
permission from users instead of the current
per-title permission requirement, got a
hearing in the Senate Privacy Subcommittee
last week (a recent subcommittee addition
to the Judiciary panel, due to increased
focus on online privacy issues).

The bill passed in the Republicancontrolled
House Dec. 6 on a vote of 303-116
and without a hearing. At last week’s hearing
subcommittee chairman Al Franken (DMinn.)
said that the bill appeared to have been
rushed through the House and indicated that
would not be the case in the Senate.

Chill Out on Opt-Out: Google told concerned
legislators that its move to update its
privacy policy still gives users plenty of control
over how their data is used and does not
involve collecting or sharing any new data with
third parties. That came in response to a letter
from a bipartisan group of House members
concerned about Google’s announcement on
that policy change.

One of those members — Markey, the cochairman
of the House Privacy Caucus —
was not assuaged. “Despite Google’s recent
response, it still appears that consumers
will not be able to completely opt out of data
collection and information sharing among
Google’s services,” Markey said in an email
message to Multichannel News. “Congress
and consumers need more details, and I look
forward to meeting with Google to get clarification about what the options are for consumers
who wish to say no to these new changes.”

Markey last week continued to push the
Federal Trade Commission for an answer
on whether Google’s update violated
the terms of settlement with the Federal
Communications Commission over its
privacy policy.

Taking Aim at Tracking: Markey
was flexing his muscles elsewhere last
week as co-chair of the caucus. He circulated
a draft bill on mobile-device privacy
in the wake of news last month that
Carrier IQ software on smart phones and
other devices tracks user keystrokes
without their knowledge or consent.

Markey has asked the Federal Trade
Commission to investigate the software.
He followed up that call with a discussion
draft of a bill that would require disclosure
of monitoring software, including whether it
has been installed on a phone, which data it
is collecting and to whom the information is
being sent. Markey’s measure would also require
that users opt in to data collection before
it could begin. In addition, the third parties
would have to have information protection
policies in place and any carrier agreements
to share information with third parties would
have to be filed at both the FTC and the FCC.

The Face Is Familiar: The Federal Trade
Commission got a spur and a shout-out from
Capitol Hill for investigating facial recognition
software, which has been tested by Apple,
Facebook and Google. In a letter to the commission,
Privacy Caucus members, including
Markey and co-chair Joe Barton (R-Tex.), said,
“As companies continue to develop and deploy
these new technologies, clear policies guiding
the implementation, operation, and maintenance
of these technologies is essential.”