Industry Responds to Upswing in Online Privacy Concerns

As Internet users become more aware of online privacy issues, Internet companies are working to prove that consumer data is safe and under control. Some companies are even trying to gain advantage in the market by promoting themselves as more privacy-friendly than their rivals. Mozilla recently took this approach when it announced it would allow users to disable third-party tracking software. Others have taken similar tacts.

“At the same time, Web platform companies are setting limits on other companies with which they do business,” reports The New York Times. “Last year, for instance, Apple began requiring applications in its operating system to get permission from users before tracking their location or peering into calendars and contacts stored on an iPhone. Also, a host of companies big and small are offering a variety of privacy tools like ways to encode Facebook posts and ways to secure personal data stored in the cloud.”

The focus on privacy has become increasingly important, according to research. Last year, a survey by Forrester Research “found that one in three consumers were concerned about companies having access to their behavioral data. More than 40 percent said they had stopped short of completing a transaction on a Web site because of something they read in a privacy policy,” details the article.

“It’s not just privacy advocates and regulators pushing,” said Brendon Lynch, chief privacy officer at Microsoft, during the RSA Conference last week. “Increasingly, people are concerned more about privacy as technology intersects their life.”

“You’re seeing more companies trying to do that — develop privacy protecting services,” added Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham Law School. “Platforms recognize they have to deal with privacy. They’re looking at how they can be competitive.”

While consumer satisfaction plays a factor, “the industry is working hard to stave off government regulation, which is moving at a glacial pace anyway,” notes the article. “There seems to be no movement on broad privacy legislation on Capitol Hill, and no consensus has been reached on standards for ‘Do Not Track,’ a browser setting that would let Internet users indicate that they did not want their activity tracked by marketers.”

Alex Fowler, Mozilla’s chief privacy officer, notes that almost 12 percent of desktop Firefox users and 14 percent of mobile Firefox users (on Android) have activated the Do Not Track signal. “They’re asking for a different level of privacy on your service,” he said. “You have to listen to that. It’s critical to your business.”