At noon today, the White House will unveil a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights announcing the cooperation of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL on a plan to install "Do Not Track" technology in Web browsers. The plan is filled with principles that consumer groups have long endorsed, like refraining from tracking users' activities online and using the information in different contexts. But a closer look at the announcement reveals what the tech giants stood to gain by cooperating. Here are a few:
It's toothless As CNN Money's David Goldman writes, the tech giants don't stand to lose very much by this new plan. "The bill is a splashy gesture, but it's also pretty toothless. The document is stuffed with vague rules such as: 'Companies should offer consumers clear and simple choices, presented at times and in ways that enable consumers to make meaningful decisions.'" The White House even admitted that the broad outlines of the rule weren't binding and it asked for Congress to pass stricter mandates. But as Goldman notes "that's not going to happen any time soon."
It benefits the tech companies in Europe Some of the tech companies involved, such as Goole, are facing a wave of regulatory scrutiny by EU regulators who want to pass laws governing the tech sector. Thus, as The Washington Post's Cecilia Kang notes, "The move by the U.S. government gives Web giants leverage in their negotiations with regulators in Europe, where the companies can now make a stronger case for voluntary rules, analysts say."
Future plans for enforcement are vague This is the aspect that Gizmodo's Jamie Condliffe calls "one huge, glaring omission: there is no plan for implementation or enforcement." He notes that it has "Plenty of principles, lots of theories, and a great many sentiments, but no cold, hard suggestions of how it can be made to work. So, while in theory it sounds like it could change our digital lives, it is still very much based in theory." How's the administration planning on implementing this? According to Politico, it would happen gradually. "The administration envisions that companies like Google and Facebook, as well as the networks that advertise to consumers based on their Web browsing behaviors, would come together with privacy hawks and other stakeholders to develop codes of conduct that keep in line with the administration's privacy principles," writes Tony Romm.
Mobile is off the table Companies such as Google have been criticized for tracking consumer activities by going around the browser privacy protections on mobile devices, which inspired many consumer advocates to insist on a "Do Not Track" policy. But as The Post notes, "The White House report doesn’t specifically address privacy on mobile devices — an area that firms are eager to protect from federal regulation."