The FTC gathered in the west yesterday, holding the second in its series of Internet "Privacy Roundtables" at Berkeley Law School. Like the first round table last month in Washington (previously reported on here), the event yesterday brought together representatives from business, consumer advocacy groups, and government to wrestle with the privacy issues faced in this age when just about every visit to a website, update of a social media profile, or use of an iPhone app results in the collection of consumer data. And also like last month, the panels sometimes became "politely heated" as the participants expressed differing views regarding how to address the issues.
The day began with Commissioner Pamela Harbour stating that, what with all the privacy concerns consumers face, "good" businesses have an opportunity to compete for market share on the privacy point, a sentiment repeated in later panels. Nevertheless, she also noted her view that market forces are not sufficient to protect consumers, because (among other reasons) it is "difficult for consumers to define their expectations" for privacy. BCP Director David Vladeck followed, picking up on the theme of continued concern that many consumers do not understand the privacy issues they face, and that privacy protections for new technology should thus be "baked in at the beginning, rather than half-baked" add ons later.
The panels then addressed issues ranging from the particular issues raised by social networking sites, what happens to consumer data in the "cloud," and how mobile devices bring their own unique issues.
As readers of this blog know, it seems pretty clear that the FTC is looking to move away from a self-regulatory "notice and consent" model for dealing with privacy and toward a prescriptive world. Comments at this Berkeley roundtable were consistent with that, but obviously no solutions were reached. Now it's on to the third and last in the round table series, this time back in DC.
If you are interested in watching the webcast of the Berkeley Roundtable, it is available here.