Microsoft's deputy general counsel called for a comprehensive approach to protecting online consumer privacy in testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Erich Andersen, deputy general counsel of Microsoft's Windows division, yesterday addressed an online privacy bill of rights proposed by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). Their bill would allow consumers to opt-out of targeted online advertising.
"We recognize that the combined efforts of industry and government are required to effectively balance the need to protect consumers' privacy interests and promote innovation," Andersen said in a written statement. "In light of our experience, we recommend a multi-pronged approach that includes legislation, industry self-regulation, technology tools and consumer education."
The committee hearing was the first in a series the committee will hold to examine commercial collection, maintenance, use and sharing of consumer information. While much of the information is used to create targeted advertising, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), chairman of the committee, said in his opening statement that data brokers also use this possibly sensitive and private information to create profiles on individuals.
"Worse, even when Americans are aware this is happening, too often there is very little they can do to stop it. I've been alarmed by reports that companies are figuring out new ways to limit and circumvent consumer choice online," Rockefeller said.
John Montgomery, chief operating officer for the North American operations of GroupM Interaction, said many of his clients give consumers notice of what information is being collected by displaying an icon on each advertisement that collects data. The advertising option icon gives customers more information about data practices associated with online behavioral advertising and allows them to opt-out if they choose.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) warned that new privacy controls may harm Internet commerce.
"What is the cost going to be in terms of the economic vibrancy of the Internet? How will we draw the line between what kind of behavioral marketing is fair and what kind of behavioral marketing invades privacy? I just think we have to be very careful about the unintended consequences," she said.
Kerry said he hopes the final draft of legislation will "do no harm, even as we're protecting people. I hope we can get a product where everybody is standing up and saying, 'This is good and this is something we can live with and work with,' and the consumer is really given a set of choices and opportunities here that they don't have today to make intelligence-guided selections as to where they're heading and what's happening to their information. And I think we can come out of here without upsetting the obvious commercial interests that we all encourage and are important to us."