Obama Administration Facing Online Privacy Issues

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The new Obama administration won't take office for a week, but online privacy advocates already are seeking support to protect consumers from Internet companies.

The Washington Post reported The Future of Privacy Forum, which is supported by AT&T, wants the President-elect's transition team to appoint a privacy chief to guide standards regarding the collection and use of consumer data.

The Forum has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding mobile marketing that invades consumer privacy. Additionally, Bloomberg reported the Center for Digital Democracy and U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) have also have filed against companies like mobile audience analyst company Bango and advertising network AdMob, claiming both engage in questionable marketing practices, the groups allege.

The complaint said companies such as Google are "pushing the envelope" in tracking consumer mobile Internet use in order to target advertising.

"Policies governing consumer privacy on the mobile Web have failed to keep pace with these new marketing practices," said U.S. PIRG director of consumer protection Ed Mierzwinski.

Privacy risks arise not only in the consumer sector, but also every time government handles citizens' information. Privacy Forum co-chair Jules Polonetsky, a former chief of privacy at AOL, told The Washington Post, "How data is handled is going to be far more central than ever before."

Polonetsky added that most companies collecting consumer data online have privacy officers, as do governmental bodies such as Canada, Argentina, and the European Union

Privacy groups want the FTC to adopt rules regarding disclosure that would allow consumers greater control over how information they provide is used by marketing and ad firms.

Various organizations have urged President-elect Barack Obama to create a tech chief, while others insist clearer regulations and guidelines are needed, not another administration position.

While no name has surfaced as a potential tech czar, The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets have reported Obama is set to name Julius Genachowski, a Harvard classmate and top campaign advisor, as chairman of the FCC.

Companies are expecting some form of action from the Obama team. Rob Enderle, president of San Jose, Calif., research firm Enderle Group, told Bloomberg, "The Obama administration has made it clear that the Bush administration was way too passive with regard to privacy, and they will want to make a statement."