In March 2012, the FTC released their final report on online privacy, entitled Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: Recommendations for Businesses and Policymakers. This is a continuation of their December 2010 preliminary report. The final report calls on Congress to consider enacting privacy legislation and data security legislation. The Commission offers to work with both Congress and industry to provide greater transparency for, and control over, the practices of information brokers.

The FTC’s framework consists of five action items; implementing a Do Not Track tool, improving privacy disclosures on mobile applications, creating legislation to provide consumers with access to information about them held by a data broker, explore privacy concerns regarding large platform providers, and promote enforceable self-regulatory codes. The report suggests that a centralized website be created where data brokers (1) identify themselves to consumers and describe how they collect and use consumer data and (2) detail the access rights and other choices they provide with respect to the consumer data they maintain.

Consumers have a right to know what data third-party websites collect about them, know how this data is used, and have the power to change inaccurate or irrelevant information. When these websites are transparent about their privacy practices, consumers can make choices about which websites they want to use, and which websites do not meet their expectations. Consumers also should be able to opt out of tracking through a Do Not Track tool.

Consumers Union commends the FTC for the goals of this report and plans to take an active role in the implementation process going forward. “This is a good report that reflects the growing concerns about online privacy, especially the fact that we need better tools and information to decide how our personal information is used,” said Ioana Rusu, regulatory counsel for Consumers Union. “When we talk about online privacy, we’re talking about trust. A company needs customers to trust that their personal information is going to be treated with respect. If you don’t trust that a company is going to use your information responsibly, you’re going to be much less likely to adopt new services, and that hurts innovation.”