Is Data Privacy a Relic of the Past?

Federal Trade Commissioner urges corporate data collectors to make their policies more transparent ahead of Data Privacy Day.

by / January 27, 2012
Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill

Saturday is Data Privacy Day, which recognizes the importance of protecting personal information.

Congress officially recognized the annual event in 2009, and the event has garnered support among several states and localities. Canada and many European countries also are involved in the activities.

Acknowledgement already has begun stateside. The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) hosted a privacy forum of industry heavyweights and policymakers on Thursday morning at the George Washington University School of Law, which was streamed on Facebook. The archived broadcast is currently available.

Panelists included David Hoffman, director of security policy and global privacy officer at Intel; Ari Schwartz, senior Internet policy adviser for the U.S. Department of Commerce; and Gerard Lewis, vice president, deputy general counsel and chief privacy officer at Comcast Cable.

Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill used the forum to caution against deterioration of industry’s privacy practices.

“We’ve seen press reports about how life insurers use consumer consumption patterns to predict life expectancy — and hence to set rates and coverage the insurers offer for their policies,” Brill said. “Analysts are undoubtedly working right now to identify certain Facebook or Twitter habits or activities as predictive of behaviors relevant to whether a person is a good or trustworthy employee, or is likely to pay back a loan.”

“Might there not be a day very soon when these analysts offer to sell information scraped from social networks to current and potential employers to be used to determine whether you’ll get a job or promotion?” She continued. “Or to the bank where you’ve applied for a loan, to help it determine whether to give you the loan, and on what terms?”

Brill alluded to Facebook’s recent settlement with the FTC over what the government alleges were deceptive privacy practices by the social networking company. Brill’s comments came after Google announced that it is modifying its privacy policies effective March 1 to allow the company to collect and share data on a user as he or she uses the company’s search engine, email, social networking platform and other products —  a move roundly panned by privacy advocates.

Brill called on such “data brokers” to make a one-stop-shop where consumers could access user-friendly information on the data that companies have collected on them.

“Data brokers need to get cracking now to put something like this into place,” she said.

Tips on how to ensure data privacy are available at, the NCSA’s website that features educational resources. The site offers a state-by-state listing of privacy offerings from state governments (, like Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler’s tips for online privacy and safety, ( and Ohio’s webpage featuring security resources ( for citizens.

“Increased security measures contribute to better privacy protection, and we want everyone to be aware of how to best protect their information,” said Michael Kaiser, the NCSA’s executive director, in a press release. “We hope the official Data Privacy Day 2012 event will encourage digital citizens to become more vigilant about how their personal data is being consumed, stored and used by other parties online.”

The Council of Europe celebrated the first Data Privacy Day on Jan. 28, 2007, initiating information campaigns in various European countries. America began celebrating Data Privacy Day after Congress passed a resolution in 2009 declaring the official day.

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