CDT launches campaign to help consumers demand privacy

The Center for Democracy and Technology has launched a new consumer privacy campaign with the goal of empowering Internet users to take control of their privacy.

The Take Back Your Privacy Campaign will focus on pushing the U.S. Congress to pass a comprehensive consumer privacy bill, which the CDT has been advocating for years, but the campaign will also focus on creating user-friendly privacy tools for Internet users.

During the campaign's launch Thursday, CDT released a privacy complaint tool that allows users to quickly file complaints about online privacy violations with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

CDT, a privacy and digital rights advocacy group, will also provide a collaboration platform where developers can work together to create open-source privacy tools, said Leslie Harris, CDT's president and CEO. The Privacy Labs development center is scheduled to launch in early 2010.

The campaign also offers letter-writing tools to help Internet users contact lawmakers; analysis on privacy tools available; and social media tools to spread the word about privacy issues.

"The goal is not [for CDT] to own the campaign," Harris said. "We're trying to seed a user-driven movement."

The new campaign comes as several U.S. lawmakers have talked about passing a new privacy law, and officials with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission have signaled that they will seek to more stringently enforce privacy rules that already exist. In particular, lawmakers in recent months have raised concerns about ways that Web sites are using behavioral advertising to track consumers across the Internet.

CDT expects new privacy legislation to be introduced in 2010, although it may not immediately pass, said Ari Schwartz, CDT's vice president and chief operating officer.

Under existing standards, U.S. companies must give consumers notice about what personal information they're collecting and get consent, but there are few rules limiting what data can be collected, Harris said. Also, many consumers don't know what they're consenting to, many privacy advocates have said.

"Notice and consent ... is not adequate," Harris said. "It puts all the burden on the consumer."

Instead of notice and consent, new privacy legislation should limit what personal data companies can collect, Harris said. Companies should state the purpose of their information collection and limit their collection to the stated purposes, she added.

There are still Web sites "that continue to say, 'We will collect anything about you, for any purpose, for any time, forever and ever,'" Harris said. "There are still lots of them."

Take Back Your Privacy will add new features, including contests, videos and fact sheets, in coming months, CDT said. The Web site will focus on helping consumers be better advocates for their own privacy.

"We know that restoring the privacy balance in this country won't happen overnight, but it won't happen if we don't demand it," Schwartz said. "Our goal is to make privacy a higher priority, so lawmakers and business leaders will have no choice but to respond."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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