Alysa Hutnik

Privacy in the Online Ecosystem: Obligations and Best Practices Are Evolving

Preview of upcoming session at Strata Santa Clara

At the end of 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) hosted the public workshop, “The Big Picture – Comprehensive Online Data Collection,” which focused on privacy concerns relating to the comprehensive collection of consumer online data by Internet service providers (“ISPs”), operating systems, browsers, search engines, and social media. During the workshop, panelists debated the impact of service providers’ ability to collect data about computer and device users across unaffiliated websites, including when some entities have no direct relationship with such users.

As one example of the issues raised by the panelists, Professor Neil Richards, from the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, stated that, despite its benefits, comprehensive data collection infringes on the concept of “intellectual privacy,” which is predicated on consumers’ ability to freely search, interact, and express themselves online. Professor Richards also stated that comprehensive data collection is creating a transformational power shift in which businesses can effectively persuade consumers based on their knowledge of consumer preferences. Yet, according to Professor Richards, few consumers actually understand “the basis of the bargain,” or the extent to which their information is being collected.

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