November 14, 2012

Maine Voices: Lobbyists derailing efforts to ensure online privacy, thwart predators

Americans all deserve protection from invasive marketers and crippling infrastructure attacks.

By Diane Russell, a state representative from Portland

PORTLAND – Eight people racked up $725,000 in debt using the Social Security number of a 16-year old girl – all without her or her parents' knowledge.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, represents District 120 in the Maine House.

An obscure company in Arkansas has spent decades secretly amassing a comprehensive database of information on individuals – and sells that data to the highest bidder.

And national security experts are concerned that our digital infrastructure leaves us seriously vulnerable to attacks on our electrical and water supply infrastructure.

At a time when the threats to our children, our identity and our national cybersecurity are at an all-time high, a handful of industry lobbyists have blocked progress on the 2012 Cyber Security Act and Do Not Track Kids in Congress, and updates to the Child Online Privacy Protection Act in the Federal Trade Commission. They have even imploded "do not track" negotiations within the World Wide Web Consortium – the standard-setting organization for the world's Internet.

CHILDREN'S ONLINE PRIVACY

Children today are online more than ever, and are at increasing risk of being illegally tracked and having their personal data and identities stolen. In fact, the FTC reports that 8 percent of identity theft cases now involve minors.

The Child Online Privacy Protection Act, developed in 1998, hasn't kept up with technological advances, social media or mobile devices. Last year, the Do Not Track Kids Act was introduced by Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., but the debate over protecting children from abusive marketers and predators continues to stalemate.

Facebook and other Internet marketers have led the fight to stall any updates that might infringe upon their ability to collect data, even if it means accidentally collecting personal information about children.

DO NOT TRACK

Consumers overwhelmingly want the option of avoiding tracking and corporate profiling. Similar to the "do not call" list for telemarketers, "do not track" would provide an easy way for consumers to tell Internet marketers that they don't want to be tracked, profiled or targeted.

This is important considering, according to The New York Times, that Acxiom Corp. has amassed an average of 1,500 data points for more than 500 million adults worldwide, including a majority of American adults.

Ending online tracking and profiling is so popular with consumers that Microsoft included a default "do not track" setting in its Internet Explorer 10 release. The advertising community erupted in anger at Microsoft's audacity. The Digital Advertising Alliance went as far as to say its members could ignore the setting altogether.

The advertising industry has also been largely credited with imploding more than a year's worth of W3C Tracking Protection Working Group talks. Just a few weeks ago, the Direct Marketing Association abruptly requested that "Marketing should be added to the list of 'Permitted Uses for Third Parties and Service Providers,'" effectively making "do not track" moot.

It would have cut into their profits.

CYBERSECURITY

Hurricane Sandy devastated transportation and electricity infrastructure while forcing the New York Stock Exchange to close for two full days. Imagine if hackers accomplished the same feat (and more) – all with a few clicks of the keyboard.

There are two major cybersecurity threats U.S. lawmakers must address: infrastructure hardening and data breach tracking. The first relates to the protection of critical infrastructure like power plants and water sources. The latter deals with identity theft, as well as the theft of business secrets such as product prototypes, which are often later counterfeited.

Businesses regularly face challenges with corporate theft and data security, and would be seriously affected if our economy were destabilized should any of our core infrastructure become crippled. The final version of the 2012 Cyber Security Act had largely addressed privacy concerns while ensuring the standards were voluntary for businesses.

Even so, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce successfully lobbied to kill the bill this past August, citing excessive government interference in the free market. A lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, rightfully called it a "shameful day."

Instead of putting their profits over our privacy, leading industry groups should be focused on a constructive dialogue that helps lawmakers create a secure digital framework while ensuring the continued growth and innovation of the Internet.

Americans expect and deserve comprehensive, bipartisan solutions that protect our children from abusive marketers and predators, prevent companies from secretly building invasive consumer dossiers and ensure the long-term security of our digital defense.

 

- Special to the Press Herald

 

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