By Ellen Blackler, AT&T Executive Director – Public Policy

Today is National Data Privacy Day, a worldwide effort to raise awareness, improve transparency and generate dialogue surrounding data privacy issues impacting individuals, companies and governments.

Obviously, this is a good time to review the state of data privacy in the online world and AT&T’s ongoing commitment to the highest standards of data privacy.  Last summer, we unveiled our updated and streamlined data privacy policy.  Before the policy became final, we provided 45 days for consumer feedback – and improved the policy based on that feedback.  Our privacy policy is now written in plain language, is designed around many consumers’ concerns and clearly explains what data we collect, how we collect it, and how we use it.  But, we have not rested on these laurels.  We continue to look at new approaches to transparency and consumer control.

Later today, I will be participating in a Federal Trade Commission roundtable discussion in Berkeley, California.  The roundtable discussion will explore the privacy challenges posed by the fundamental expansion in scope and magnitude of online data collected and used for commercial purposes.  In the new world, even where discrete user information is anonymous, the growing capability to accumulate and associate data can result in a highly detailed, multi-dimensional view of a user beyond what is common in the offline world.The evolution in data collection and use calls for a similar evolution in approach to privacy protection.  At the FTC roundtable today, I will emphasize that a cornerstone of that evolution needs to be new thinking and innovative tools to empower customers so that they can enjoy their online experiences according to their own preferences.

Are we seeing some of the first of these new tools and thinking today?  I think so.  Consumers have greater access to opt-out mechanisms such as that provided by the National Advertising Initiative.  Some companies are taking the next step and making the profiles of consumer preferences available for consumers to edit themselves.  We’ve taken this step with users of – along with the option for consumers to choose not to be targeted in this way.

Additionally, the Future of Privacy Forum has completed the development of a set of symbols and labels that will be used to improve transparency around internet advertising practices, and the major internet advertising trade organizations announced their intention to adopt one of the labeling options as an industry standard.  Also today, Truste will reveal a new program to expand its work to encompass a trusted seal and dispute resolution program for targeted advertising.

These developments are great examples of the new approaches to transparency and control that can serve as the basis for the evolution to increasingly innovative ways to engage consumers directly.

We see that evolution as a shift away from “notice and consent” to one that ensures customers’ active and real engagement in the use and sharing of their online data, a shift to a focus on how customers are engaged in the collection and use of the data.  An environment where we ask is the practice transparent, as opposed to is the practice simply disclosed?  Does the customer have the opportunity to control collection and use?  To be effective, the means for this kind of customer engagement must be designed as an integral attribute of the entire internet ecosystem.  This does not mean that the current privacy regime will be immediately supplanted by an entirely new one.  The use of straightforward and meaningful notice and consent systems can and will be appropriate in a variety of circumstances.  However, more interactive forms of customer engagement must be part of the evolution of privacy practices in the data rich world.

For AT&T, strong data privacy protections, including our privacy policy, are good business for us, and part of the way we respond to consumer demands and concerns.  In partnership with our customers, we can ensure the best protection possible for consumers’ privacy through consumer engagement as a cornerstone of a new approach to data privacy in an ever-changing online marketplace.

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