Proposed privacy watchdog gets mixed reviews
IDG News Service - News reports suggesting U.S. President Barack Obama's administration is planning to appoint a new privacy watchdog and push for new privacy laws met with mixed reaction Friday, with some critics questioning whether new laws are needed.
While it's unclear what issues new regulations would address and what role a privacy watchdog would have, some observers cheered a new focus on privacy from the Obama administration.
"Better late than never," U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairman of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, said in a statement. "Neither the government nor the industry are doing enough to protect people's privacy, but the Department of Commerce's decision to step up may shine some light on practices that seem to thrive in the dark. I am glad more and more folks -- in the government and otherwise -- are beginning to realize that there is a war against privacy."
But critics pointed to a couple of potential problems, including questions about whether new privacy regulations are needed and about potential conflicts with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, an independent agency that now holds U.S. companies to their privacy promises. FTC officials have been signaling a new privacy push in recent months.
Privacy groups and some tech companies have been pushing for stronger laws for years, but there's "an absence of any real data and very little analysis" of the costs of new regulations, said Thomas Lenard, president of the Technology Policy Institute, a free-market think tank.
New regulations, including an online do-not-track list being considered by the FTC, could hurt e-commerce and advertising, while delivering intangible benefits, Lenard said. So far, groups expressing concern with Web sites and ad networks tracking user behavior have shown few negative consequences, he said.
"After more than 10 years of talking about this, we're talking about hypothetical harms, rather than a lot of real harms," he added.
But new regulations could lead to fewer targeted ads, less effective ads and lower quality Web content, he said.
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