Online privacy to get federal attention

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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: And there was word today that the White House is preparing to beef up Internet privacy laws --
including the creation of an online watchdog to guard your security on the web. This news comes amid mounting privacy complaints ranging from Facebook's collection and sharing of personal data, to Google's Street View mapping vehicles capturing business and personal Wi-Fi connections.

There are growing calls for legislation. And both the Commerce Department and Federal Trade Commission are preparing recommendations on the subject. From Silicon Valley, Marketplace's Steve Henn joins us with more on this now. Hey, Steve.

Steve Henn: Hey how are you, Bob?

Moon: Good, thanks. I confess, I'm one of those who can't be bothered and click right past all that legal privacy mumbo-jumbo, figuring what's the worst that could happen -- they'll use my email to send me some sales pitches? But you say it goes way beyond that. What kind of privacy concerns are we talking about -- what's the leading edge of what we need to worry about?

Henn: You know it's pretty old news now that e-commerce sites track you, and if folks have been listening to this show at least, they know that marketers can use the cell phone in your XBox Kinect?

Moon: Yeah I have, it's getting some buzz.

Henn: Yeah and basically it tracks you so you can play video games without a remote control. And it also uses facial recognition software to know who's playing the game. Well executives at Microsoft say they can use that same facial recognition software to actually target ads, not to just the person playing the game, but anyone sitting in the living room in front of those cameras. So think about that for a second: this game is a huge hit, or the system is a hit. They expect to ship 5 million units by the end of the year. So you know, millions of Americans are going to have cameras in their living room that can track them and know who they are.

Moon: And this is all happening now, so what are policy-makers doing to get ahead of the curve, and are privacy advocates satisifed?

Henn: Well there's news today that the Commerce Dept. and the White House will create a high-level privacy watchdog. That person would negotiate with governments overseas about privacy, and also ride herd on the issue in the administration. But many privacy advocates are worried about this proposal. See, the Commerce Dept. is pushing a system of beefed-up self-regulation for the industry, and guys like Jeff Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy say that's not enough. What he wants is kind of a consumer bill of rights for online privacy. Here's how he put it:

Jeff Chester: Consumer protection in the digital age means a consumer knows what information is being collected about them, how that information's being used, and more critically, can control how that information is being used.

Henn: The FDC is reportedly considering a Do Not Track list, that would let Americans opt out of sharing personal information online.

Moon: And what's the industry's take on that?

Henn: Well not surprisingly, they hate it. I mean, personal information and using personal information in marketing is central to the business model of some of the most successful companies in America right now -- this is what Google does, this is what Facebook does. Increasingly it's what Apple and Microsoft do. So they're lobbying hard against this proposal and are really supportive of a competing privacy proposal being pushed by the Commerce Dept. that would allow the industry to self-regulate.

Moon: Marketplace's Steve Henn on technology. Thanks for joining us.

Henn: Thanks so much.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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