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In recent months, few privacy news stories have generated as much attention as those surrounding the release of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's online privacy report last week. The report was highly anticipated, and from Washington to Paris and Brussels to Madison Avenue, a steady stream of reaction and analyses has ensued.

The report touches on what some have described as a "breathtaking" range of areas. It recommends that companies develop a privacy-by-design philosophy and calls for more effective transparency in privacy policies and greater protections for children.

But certainly the aspect garnering the most attention is the commission's assertion that it would endorse the creation of a do-not-track mechanism that would allow Internet users to opt out of having information about their online activities collected and used. 

One U.S. lawmaker hailed the overall report as a "wakeup call for every Internet user in this country," and European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx noted that the report parallels the EU Data Protection Directive "in significant ways," suggesting that in the future, the U.S. may be recognized as adequate in the eyes of European data protection regulators.

Not surprisingly, the advertising industry has been less enthusiastic about the report. One industry leader cautioned that a do-not-track mechanism could stymie monetization of the Internet. "If you remove tracking, you remove advertisers," warned Dilip DaSilva of Exponential Interactive.

The U.S. Commerce Department will issue its own "green paper" on online privacy any day now, and it will surely provoke even more dialogue.

As data privacy issues grow in numbers and sophistication, so grows attention toward the topic.

The FTC and Commerce reports come at a time when consumers are becoming more aware of data privacy issues, due in part to The Wall Street Journal's extensive and ongoing What They Know series.

It will be interesting to see how this convergence of a better-informed public and greatly increased federal government interest plays out.

J. Trevor Hughes, CIPP
President & CEO, IAPP



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