Looking Ahead: Cause for Optimism for Online Consumer Privacy

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) at a special summit in Maryland focused on privacy in the digital age. The summit marked a key point in a year-long initiative by NAAG President and Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler aimed at exploring the best ways to manage online privacy risks and how best for NAAG to apply its resources to help ensure that the Internet’s major players take meaningful steps to protect privacy online. We at Microsoft definitely appreciated the leadership and work of Attorney General Gansler in making privacy a priority for his office. His goals and the goals of NAAG are very much in line with our belief that, done right, online privacy and the economic model that supports the free Web can take a big step forward.

At the outset of 2013, I wrote that this could be a pivotal year for our industry as it pertains to prioritizing people’s online privacy. Now, just a few months into the year, there is substantial cause for optimism.

New leaders with strong commitments to privacy have taken the helm at a number of key groups that will help shape the future of online privacy. Collectively, we’re continuing the hard work needed to reach consensus on standards and rules to better protect people’s information. And consumer groups, as well as consumers themselves, are raising their voices and urging the computing industry to work together to give people more choice and control over how information is collected and shared online.

A number of my colleagues from Microsoft participated recently in the International Association of Privacy Professionals Global Privacy Summit in Washington D.C., something we look forward to every year. They came home energized by the increasingly prominent role privacy is playing in societies around the world, which was evident in the speeches and sessions there. One of the summit’s highlights was hearing from Edith Ramirez, the new Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, who took a strong stance on privacy, reaffirming her longstanding commitment to Do Not Track (DNT), discussing the importance of aligning global frameworks to enable cross-border data flows and highlighting her intention to bring all interested parties together to help give consumers greater control over their privacy. We’re looking forward to working with Chairwoman Ramirez and others across academia, government and industry on DNT as well as other technologies and policies to help make that vision possible.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) tracking protection working group, under Peter Swire’s leadership, just wrapped up its second meeting of the year. They’ve made progress toward both finalizing a DNT standard and further defining a consistent, agreed-upon response to the DNT signal. We continue to support the development and implementation of a permissions API to give consumers more fine-grained control over their privacy and allow them to give specific permission to individual websites, businesses and organizations to collect and use information, even when DNT is on.

In the United States, a number of respected consumer and privacy organizations recently issued a public statement making clear their belief that both consumers and industry win with DNT and supporting the W3C’s efforts to develop standards for how DNT should work.

U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) has introduced a bill called the “Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2013,” which would establish standards and rules for online tracking.

Consumer interest in DNT continues to grow, although there is a long way to go to see it fully implemented. We remain committed to having DNT turned on in our Internet Explorer 10 browser and believe that one day it will give consumers the increased control over their privacy they expect and deserve. But there are other significant efforts underway to bolster online privacy as well. Similar to Apple’s Safari model, Mozilla recently announced plans for its Firefox browser to block third-party cookies. Beyond browser-based solutions, there are a variety of other tools available to consumers to help manage online privacy, including AdChoices, which the advertising industry offers as a means for consumers to manage interest-based advertising. All of these efforts are positive signs that technology companies, the advertising industry, privacy advocates and government officials are taking steps to address consumer concerns, and ensure the ongoing vibrancy of the internet economy.  

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible in giving consumers greater choice and control over how their information is collected, shared and used as they search and browse the Web. It’s the nature of our company and our industry to never stand still, to always look ahead at how we can do more and better.

Over the past 10 years, we’ve built a dedicated group of privacy professionals here at Microsoft who work diligently every day to help protect your privacy as we deliver new innovations. You’ll be hearing more from us about our ongoing commitment to privacy in the near future as we continue to put more of our marketing efforts behind privacy with consumers. Your privacy is our priority, and we want to hear your ideas and feedback. I invite you to stay tuned and to take advantage of opportunities to engage directly with us in conversations about privacy.

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