Boucher Online Privacy Bill Descends on Industry

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privacy_smallADOTAS – So last fall Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) — chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet (also known in Washington as “The Tubes”) — promised online privacy legislation before Congress’ winter break. And that’s why it’s being introduced now as summer is sweeping its way through the nation.

Granted, Congress has had a busy year, with all that filibustering and health reform and financial reform and reform reform…. Only so much can be done during those 91 days in session. (Did you know House members get 271 days of recess? Maybe not last year because a certain president hauled their lazy asses into the Capitol to actually pass legislation.)

But after more than a year of development, the timing of the bill’s introduction is pretty good considering it comes on the heels of the launch of Facebook’s Open Graph (adding Like buttons the Internet over) and partner site program. Data privacy is on the minds of millions of Facebook users and browsers of the web — as well as congresspeople. Last week a motley band of senators wrote a snippy letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing their displeasure over the social networks latest switches.

Yesterday at an American Business Media conference, Boucher gave a preview of the draft legislation, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and appeared live on their websites at noon today. Bipartisan agreement can always be found if those subjected to the legislation can be easily demonized (awesome for electoral gain!). Sleazy advertisers with crooked teeth and greasy hair using your private online data for god-knows-what? Someone save the children!

Boucher and co. are proposing to regulate how companies collect online data and how that data is used for ad targeting, something the online ad industry has argued it can self-regulate at a series of Federal Trade Commission privacy roundtables.

In its current form, publishers would be required to disclose to consumers what data is collected, how it’s used and whom it’s shared with. It also requires pubs to offer an opt-out directly on the site — probably similar to what Google, Yahoo and others have recently introduced.

Third-party data collectors, however, have a whole other set of regs to deal with — consumers would have to opt in for those companies to use their information. But third parties can get around this if their targeted advertising shows all parties that made the ad appear in front of that particular consumer and what data of his/hers was collected — as well as the opportunity to opt out.

In a release accompanying the draft legislation, Boucher acknowledged that advertising keeps most Internet content free and promised that his legislation would not trouble the water.

“Our goal is to encourage greater levels of electronic commerce by providing to Internet users the assurance that their experience online will be more secure,” Boucher said. “That greater sense of privacy protection will be particularly important in encouraging the trend toward the cloud computing.”

Of course advertisers and marketers call it an affront to industry growth. The Interactive Advertising Bureau is calling up the troops for a meeting of the Public Policy Council on May 11. Council members — which include data collectors such as Bluekai and Audience Science as well as large publishers — will get a legislative update from representative on the committee. (Anybody want to start a pool for guessing who it is?)

After a two-month feedback-gathering period, the plan is for a revised bill to make its way to a House subcommittee hearing before it attempts the obstacle course that is getting laws through our legislative system. Hooray for bureaucracy!