Sunday, November 22, 2009

CPSIA - Learning Resources Testifies About Internet Privacy

My associate Michelle Bougie was invited to testify at the November 19 hearing held by a joint session of subcommittees of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on the subject of Internet privacy. In a re-run of last year's feeding frenzy on toy safety, consumer groups are promoting paranoia about the collection and use of consumer data on the Internet. As a result of the building pressure to regulate the use of data both online and offline, the interests of small businesses are again threatened. Michelle gave insightful testimony on the current direct marketing practices online and offline and showed how legislation has the real potential to not only stunt the growth of the Internet (a huge job creator) but also to give a federally-sanctioned monopoly to large businesses over the availability and use of consumer data.

It is worth noting that Michelle's testimony provides evidence that considerable infrastructure exists now - widely-adopted voluntary standards designed to protect consumer privacy and to make visible the practices of direct marketers. Michelle argues that the empowerment of consumers online makes these good practices a market necessity.

In fact, consumer data is rarely if ever sold (to my knowledge, we have never purchased it). Consumer data is RENTED for one-time uses typically and is not disclosed to the company renting the data. For instance, if we mail a catalog, we define the kind of names we want to rent, but never SEE them - they go directly to the mailing house and do not become our property. This makes perfect sense because the compiled lists are the intellectual property of the company that rents them out - and if they SOLD the names once, they could never sell them again. They would be out of business after one sale. Thus, we never get to see the names we rent. In fact, it is highly likely that we have rented many of the same names over and over for different mailings or email blasts. Privacy cannot be violated by uses that do not involve disclosure!

Michelle's statement is found below (sorry, the audio is a bit tinny). Media coverage of the hearing highlighted Michelle's testimony.

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