02:05 PM

Schwartz On Security: Online Privacy Battles Advertising Profits

Do businesses have the right to make money from the unregulated buying and selling of personal information?

That golden goose may go bye-bye if the government enshrines a person's right to online privacy. The White House is backing stronger privacy rights, as are three bills pending in the House and one in the Senate.

What might such legislation look like? Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are co-sponsoring a "Privacy Bill of Rights." While the bill is still a work in progress, a recently leaked, draft version aims to regulate organizations that use, transfer, or otherwise handle personally identifiable information (PII) or unique identifier information relating to 5,000 or more people per year.

"Some provisions require businesses to comply with specific obligations when dealing with 'sensitive' PII, which is defined as PII which, if lost, compromised, or disclosed without authorization, could 'result in harm to an individual,'" said attorney Nicole Friess, an associate at Information Law Group, in a blog post.

Fines would run $16,500 per day, multiplied either by the number of days of noncompliance or the number of people harmed. "However, liability is capped at $2 million or $3 million depending on the nature of the violation," she said.

But many questions remain unanswered, such as what constitutes "tracking" or "harm." For example, in its comment on the FTC's privacy framework, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University made the humorous, but often true, observation: "How Do We Conduct Cost-Benefit Analysis When 'Creepiness' Is the Alleged Harm?" noted attorney Richard Santalesa, senior counsel at Information Law Group, in a blog post.

In fact, the Mercatus comment argues that consumers stand to gain more than they lose from tracking. "Importantly, nothing in the Commission's proceeding has thus far demonstrated that online data collection and 'tracking' represent a clear harm to consumers per se, or that any 'market failure' exists here," it said. "Such a showing would be difficult since using data to deliver more tailored advertising to consumers can provide important benefits to the public.

So let's put the question out there: Is better advertising worth the potential tradeoff of anyone being able to buy detailed information about your browsing habits, income, or medical conditions? Because with luck, you'll be able to decide.

2 of 2
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
E-Commerce Security: What Every Enterprise Needs to Know
The mainstream use of EMV smartcards in the US has experts predicting an increase in online fraud. Organizations will need to look at new tools and processes for building better breach detection and response capabilities.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
Published: 2015-10-15
The Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) subsystem in the Linux kernel through 4.x mishandles requests for Graphics Execution Manager (GEM) objects, which allows context-dependent attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) via an application that processes graphics data, as demonstrated b...

Published: 2015-10-15
netstat in IBM AIX 5.3, 6.1, and 7.1 and VIOS 2.2.x, when a fibre channel adapter is used, allows local users to gain privileges via unspecified vectors.

Published: 2015-10-15
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) vulnerability in eXtplorer before 2.1.8 allows remote attackers to hijack the authentication of arbitrary users for requests that execute PHP code.

Published: 2015-10-15
Directory traversal vulnerability in QNAP QTS before 4.1.4 build 0910 and 4.2.x before 4.2.0 RC2 build 0910, when AFP is enabled, allows remote attackers to read or write to arbitrary files by leveraging access to an OS X (1) user or (2) guest account.

Published: 2015-10-15
Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) 1.1j allows local users to gain privileges via vectors involving addition of an SSH key, aka Bug ID CSCuw46076.

Dark Reading Radio