Two articles in The New York Times in the past few days underscore the need for more effective measures to protect consumer privacy.
An editorial calling for new regulations cites a a Pew Research survey released last September that said “a majority of Americans worry about their privacy. About 86 percent said they took some steps to ‘remove or mask their digital footprints’ when they were online. But these efforts are often insufficient because companies have multiple ways to monitor people, some of which are very hard to evade. And 68 percent believed current laws are not strong enough to protect them.”
“The technology and advertising industries have argued that self-regulation is the best approach to dealing with such concerns,” The Times continued. “But industry efforts have failed to produce easy-to-use protections.”
A separate op-ed by Joe Nocera entitled “The Wild West of Privacy” heralded a coming “privacy crisis” precipitated by the secretiveness of the data industry. Nocera quotes Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center about how consumers should have knowledge and control over data collected about them. “And if companies violate those rights,” he said, “there should be consequences.”
We at Mezzobit fully agree that industry measures to date have been more about PR and window dressing than providing actual value to consumers. In our hundreds of discussions with website operators large and small, a vast majority agree that more consumer friendliness is needed, but it’s the third parties that often control data collection with their opaque technology and processes.
However, we haven’t given up hope that industry can develop credible ways to report to both companies and consumers about what happens to data on digital properties as well as provide the means to control it. After all, this is why we launched Mezzobit: to bring more transparency and accountability to online data. Responsible data collection can power continued profit and innovation on the Internet while making sure that consumers are respected at every turn. These are not mutually exclusive, but it will take more work by first and third parties. The alternative is well-meaning regulation and enforcement actions that may both stop some of the offenders while also hampering many beneficial businesses.