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Consumers Union Unveils New Poll Results in Online Privacy Hearing Testimony

Two-thirds of consumers say government should help safeguard online privacy

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Consumers Union Unveils New Poll Results in Online Privacy Hearing Testimony

Two-thirds of Consumers say Government Should Help Safeguard Online Privacy


WASHINGTON, DC – Ioana Rusu, regulatory counsel for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, will share new poll results when she testifies at a Senate committee hearing on online privacy and data security tomorrow. A May poll conducted by Consumer Reports shows that two-thirds of consumers feel that the government should be involved with safeguarding their online privacy, while 81 percent of respondents agreed that they should be able to permanently opt out of Internet tracking from a single location.

“The idea of online privacy encompasses much more than the ‘creepy’ feeling consumers get when ads for an item they’ve looked at follows them around the web.  Although we live in an age of extensive sharing, very few people would agree that every piece of information they transmit should be available to everyone, for any conceivable purpose,” said Rusu. “In fact, a May Consumer Reports poll found that over 80 percent of respondents were concerned that companies may be sharing their personal information with third parties without their permission.”

The poll results are released as the Senate Commerce Committee prepares to hold a Wednesday hearing. They will hear testimony on three bills aimed at strengthening online privacy and data security – the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights of 2011 introduced by Senators Kerry and McCain, Senator Rockefeller’s Do-Not-Track Online Act, and the Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2011 sponsored by Senators Pryor and Rockefeller.

Rusu applauds the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights, saying it creates a clear roadmap for the fair and responsible treatment of consumer data online, including the principle of “privacy by design,” which requires entities to incorporate privacy protections into their day-to-day activities as they develop new products and implement new technologies. The bill also grants enforcement power to both the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general, “a crucial provision that will increase the likelihood that bad actors are caught and punished.”

Her testimony also notes the importance of Senator Rockefeller’s “Do Not Track” initiative, noting that while some industry actors have already developed and incorporated Do Not Track tools directly in browsers, marketers can and do ignore the wishes of consumers who use these tools.

“This is precisely why Chairman Rockefeller’s ‘Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011’ should be a welcome and necessary part of any privacy discussion. The bill would lend the force of law to industry’s self-regulatory efforts by requiring that when a consumer using a DNT tool expresses a preference to not be tracked online, companies must respect that choice.”

The number of security breaches today makes the need for the strong data security rules included in the Data Security and Breach Notification Act clearer than ever, says Rusu. The bill would also hopefully incentivize covered entities to engage in data minimization practices on the front end, before the breach occurs.

“We firmly believe that implementing these baseline principles will enhance consumer trust in the marketplace and encourage businesses to grow and innovate with confidence,” said Rusu.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 AM on Wednesday, June 29th. For more information, please visit www.commerce.senate.gov.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey using a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. 1,007 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place over May 5-8, 2011. The sampling error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. For a copy of the full survey, contact David Butler or Kara Kelber at Consumers Union.


Contact: David Butler or Kara Kelber, 202-462-6262, dbutler@consumer.org or kkelber@consumer.org