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Data Privacy Day 2010: Live Blogging from FTC Roundtable in Berkeley, CA

Today is "Data Privacy Day", which is being marked around the world, including here in Berkeley, CA at the FTC’s "Exploring Privacy" Roundtable.  The purpose of this roundtable discussion, the second in a series of three, is to "explore the privacy challenges posed by the vast array of 21st century technology and business practices that collect and use consumer data. Such practices include social networking, cloud computing, online behavioral advertising, mobile marketing, and the collection and use of information by retailers, data brokers, third-party applications, and other diverse businesses. The goal of the roundtables is to determine how best to protect consumer privacy while supporting beneficial uses of the information and technological innovation."  Today’s discussion, like the one that took place at the first roundtable in Washington, is focusing on whether the traditional paradigm of Fair Information Practices — and especially notice and choice — suffices to allow consumers to understand and control what information is collected about them and used by others for marketing and other purposes.  Professor Paul Schwartz, on the cloud computing panel, just commented on how typically-complex privacy policies provide "TMI" (too much information) for a consumer to understand and act on.  And Harriet Pearson of IBM also commented on how simply providing a list of companies processing data in the clouds — service providers — would not be meaningful for consumers, a proposition with which Scott Shipman of Ebay agreed.

On the issue of meaningful notice, see yesterday’s New York Times article on the emergence of an eye-catching icon attached to online ads to attract consumer attention, on which they can click to get information about  what information is being collected about them to deliver targeted ads.  (Full disclosure: the Future of Privacy Forum, the think tank that I founded and co-chair, was instrumental in development of the icon.)