Consumer Privacy Bill of Responsibilities


The White House has unveiled a Consumer Privacy Bill of Online Rights, a voluntary code of conduct which had been accepted by major internet advertisers and met with skepticism by consumer watchdogs.

The Center for Digital Democracy reacted to the Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation by stating that “that in the absence of federal legislation… some progress must be made to protect consumers” but noted that “We would have preferred the White House to introduce new legislation that clearly protected consumers online.”

An official with the Electronic Privacy Information Center called the White House statement “the clearest articulation of the right to privacy by a U.S. president in history” but added that “there are real concerns about implementation and enforcement.” Similarly, the Activism Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation described the Framework as “half a victory.”

The NGOs tentative support for the Framework overlooks its major deficiency; it gives short shrift to consumer privacy responsibilities. In a ubiquitously networked world, consumer responsibility for protecting privacy needs to be co-equal with consumer rights in order for privacy to be protected. Consumer privacy protection has to start with the consumer.

Although the White House’s privacy Bill of Rights mentions consumer responsibilities, the treatment of such responsibilities is limited. For example, the document states that the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights also recognizes that consumers have certain responsibilities to protect their privacy as they engage in an increasingly networked society.” Consumers have more than a “certain responsibility” to protect their own privacy. Unless consumers consistently take prudent steps to protect their own privacy, other protections will be of limited effectiveness at best.

The Bill of Rights does clearly and correctly state that consumer “Control over the initial act of sharing is critical. Consumers should take responsibility for those decisions.” Moreover, the Framework states that “The second dimension of Individual Control is consumer responsibility.” Unfortunately, the discussion on the essential role of consumer responsibility did not make it into the formal text of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Until consumers take their own privacy responsibilities seriously, privacy rights will prove an elusive objective.

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