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CDT Files Complaint Against Online Data Broker

The Smell of Neutrality in the Air?

A Fine COPPA Indeed

Featured on Policy Beta

July 20, Chicago, IL - Jim Dempsey will be speaking about the legal standards for government access to personal information at the PLI Privacy and Security Law Institute in Chicago, IL.


Summer is heating up as an intense time for tech policy. CDT has been busy, taking on an unscrupulous data aggregator, defending teen rights on the Web, and reviewing government proposals ranging from Internet neutrality to online ID.

CDT Files Complaint Against Online Data Broker

CDT filed a complaint last week with the Federal Trade Commission against online data broker Spokeo. We want the FTC to use our complaint as an opportunity to address more broadly the practices of data aggregators that offer consumer profiles used for employment and other important purposes without complying with existing consumer protections.

Spokeo compiles and sells often inaccurate, but detailed, profiles about millions of Americans through its website, These profiles include highly personal information, including religious and ethnic background, judgments about shopping and recreational habits, and information about family members and roommates. The profiles include "Credit Estimate" and "Wealth Level" ratings. Spokeo has encouraged employers to access its database in evaluating potential hires.

In our view, these practices place Spokeo (and other aggregators engaging in similar conduct) squarely under the purview of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which establishes basic privacy protections, including access to data about yourself and the right to challenge inaccuracies. CDT is urging the FTC to issue clearer guidance for when and how the FCRA applies to such aggregators.

The Smell of Neutrality in the Air?

The issue of Internet neutrality has gone global, with regulatory proceedings underway in multiple countries, writes CDT's Alissa Cooper. In the US, the FCC launched its Notice of Inquiry about broadband Internet access on June 17. The UK regulator, Ofcom, published its own thinking on the issue on June 24 and is asking for feedback on a range of questions. Meanwhile, the EU's Directorate-General on Information Society and Media, in Brussels, is seeking feedback on its own set of questions. And on June 30, in Canada, the CRTC declared its intent to apply its Internet traffic management practices framework to mobile wireless services.

Of course, the similar timing is no guarantee that regulators in different jurisdictions will settle on similar standards. But for developers of Internet applications, services, and content, the issues of neutrality and discrimination are cross-jurisdictional. Developers create offerings for everyone, everywhere - and suffer the consequences of discrimination in both their home countries and in far-flung locales. If some jurisdictions develop a sound policy approach here, developers will be rooting for others to follow suit.

A Fine COPPA Indeed

The FTC is reviewing the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which regulates the ability of website and online service operators to collect personal information from children under the age of thirteen. Sites aimed at children cannot collect kids' information or allow them to post it in a blog, comment field, or chat room, without parental consent. Operators not aiming their content at children have to get parental consent if they actually know that a certain user is a child.

CDT filed two sets of comments on the issue to the FTC, individually and jointly with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Progress & Freedom Foundation . We noted that COPPA is a complex, quirky statute that does a reasonably good job of achieving its goals of protecting kids' personal information and increasing parental involvement, but we cautioned the Commission against extending the COPPA Rule to cover older minors.

Our concern is based on our view that teens have a First Amendment right to access information and use interactive communications platforms, so any government mandate that they obtain their parents' consent first would violate that right. Complying with COPPA is so burdensome that most websites tell kids under thirteen to stay away. We would not want to see that approach expanded to older teens.

Encouraging Steps on Privacy from Facebook

Erica Newland gives thumbs up to Facebook's new privacy implementations for third-party apps.

Government Needs to Incentivize, Not Own, Online ID

Heather West raises concerns about the White House's Open ID plan.

Health IT After HITECH Panel: Protect Privacy, Let Data Flow

Check out the video of our recent "Health IT After HITECH" panel in San Francisco.

Also Online

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jim Dempsey and Deirdre Mulligan review the link between democracy and the Internet's technical and policy architecture.

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