Even on the news front, the U.S. Postal Service gets eclipsed by the Internet. Marketers who used to be on tenterhooks regarding the agency's push to a five-day delivery week now are focused on a bigger threat: a draft federal privacy bill that would further regulate the collection and use of online and offline data, making it harder to come by postal addresses in the first place.
Introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher and co-sponsored by Rep. Cliff Stearns, the unnamed draft bill widens the definition of personally identifiable information and prescribes specific disclosure and consumer control provisions depending on the type of data involved. For example, "covered information" includes a consumer's name, postal address, telephone/fax number, e-mail address, Social Security number, IP address and other similar details. According to the proposed bill, before an entity can collect any covered information, it must conspicuously notify consumers of its privacy practices, explaining how such data is collected, used and disclosed; individuals must be given the opportunity to opt out before collection.
The second type of personal data is "sensitive information," which includes medical records, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, financial records and precise geolocation information. Businesses must obtain an individual's express opt-in consent to collect and use sensitive information.
In addition, the draft indicates consumers need to opt in for companies to share both covered and sensitive information with unaffiliated third parties. The only exception is in the case of third-party ad networks, for which the draft defaults to an opt-out status—provided consumers have easy access to a link to the ad network, where they can edit their profiles and/or opt out of having one.
Given the proposed bill's extensive regulatory footprint, the congressmen released the draft with an entreaty to stakeholders to work with them to ensure the final version supports consumer privacy without unnecessary restriction of commercial activity. While the Direct Marketing Association and other industry trade organizations are on top of this development, so are consumer privacy groups that want tighter controls than those advanced by Boucher and Stearns.
What's more, Sen. Charles Schumer's high-profile flap with Facebook over its recently rolled-out "open graph platform"—which shares member data with third-party sites and displays members' activities on these sites on Facebook—is adding urgency for a government response on data collection practices as a whole.
If you've been sitting on the sidelines because the privacy issue wasn't at your doorstop … it is now.