Rockefeller: Privacy Self-Regulation Is One-Sided

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At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, advertisers took aim at Microsoft's decision to make do-not-track a default setting in its new browser.

Bob Liodice, president of the Association of National Advertisers, said in a testimony during "The Need for Privacy Protections: Is Industry Self-Regulation Adequate?" hearing that the "unilateral decision" by one browser company could cause confusion and would "profoundly, adversely impact the broad array of advertising-supported services they currently widely use."

Under pressure from the administration, the Digital Advertising Alliance - -Liodice was speaking for them at the hearing -- adopted a voluntary opt-in, do-not-track mechanism.

The hearing Thursday was a follow-up to a May 9 hearing in the committee on the Administration's proposed privacy Bill of Rights.

Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) signaled he did not think self-regulation was sufficient. He asked at the hearing whether the government should not step in to help hungry children, but wait for the marketplace to take care of them, suggesting there was a parallel in the committee's focus on online consumer privacy. Rockefeller is particularly concerned about kids online tracking and data collection.

"I have learned that self-regulation is inherently one-sided, and that the interests of consumers are often sacrificed for the demands of the bottom-line," he said in opening the hearing. "Until consumers are adequately protected, I will continue to push for legislation, and hold hearings, to address this imbalance."

Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) raised questions about the potential risks if Congress were to adopt an overly restrictive model of privacy protections.

Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom and an opponent of default do-not-track, answered that it the Federal Trade Commission and the Administration pressure industry to adopt a default mechanism, it could change the how nature of the Internet "from today's low-friction, flat ecosystem of independent sites and services funded by impersonal data collection to one with fewer players who collect more data."

Ohio State Law Professor Peter Swire said that if the U.S. did not protect privacy, it could get locked out of international markets that do have such protections. Alex Fowler of Mozilla said that he was not ready to say the U.S. should adopt a European-style model, but suggested it already had one since U.S. companies had to respect that regime when interacting with European countries.

Liodice said that if the U.S. government extends its do-not-track reach to far through legislation, it could hurt cybersecurity or antifraud efforts by limiting information currently available to law enforcement. Rockefeller countered that that was a red herring.

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