White House proposal elevates privacy, transparency discussion

In an era of more personal computing, the proposed framework for privacy legislation unveiled by the White House today is a welcome development that we hope will kick-start a much-needed conversation about how to protect people’s personal information.

Fostering innovation while protecting consumer privacy is at the heart of what we do every day at Microsoft. We understand that people will only use technology they trust. That’s why we work hard to build privacy protections into our products and policies. And it’s why we’ve thrown our support behind better privacy laws. For example, since 2005 we’ve called for the adoption of comprehensive federal privacy legislation. And in 2012, we joined the industry and privacy advocates to support the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Recent revelations of government surveillance, highly publicized data breaches, the emergence of “big data,” and the growing “Internet of Things,” have fueled public concerns about privacy. It’s no surprise that a recent Pew survey found that 91 percent of adults in the United States believe that consumers have lost control over how their personal information is collected and used by companies.

The White House framework tackles issues that are crucial to build trust and foster innovation. Not all will agree with every aspect of the proposal – some will say it goes too far, while others will say it doesn’t go far enough – but it’s a good place to start the conversation.

The proposal, which appears to be based on the Fair Information Principles, outlines steps companies should take to increase transparency, and calls for consumers to be provided privacy choices. We agree. Core to any successful new privacy legislation is a requirement that companies tell customers, in plain language, what data about them is collected and how that data is used. Transparency is essential to help build an understanding of practices that impact consumer privacy. We look forward to a discussion with other stakeholders about transparency as well as the other Fair Information Practices Principles that underpin the proposal.

Of course, data protection is about more than just legislation. Technology companies need to do their part. Last October, Microsoft was one of the 14 original signers of the Student Privacy Pledge developed by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association to establish a common set of principles to protect the privacy of student information. Earlier this month, we became the first major cloud provider to adopt the first international standard for cloud privacy. And no doubt, we’ll take additional steps in the future because we believe privacy is a fundamental right and vital to our business.

Never before have these issues been more urgent for our society. It is time to elevate the discussion on privacy and to renew efforts to draft and enact a comprehensive federal privacy bill in the United States to address concerns held by Americans and people around the world over how personal information is collected and used. We hope today’s announcement sparks that dialogue.