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Will Obama's data-privacy bill of rights work?

After a month fraught with data privacy disasters, the big guns are stepping up to the plate. Yesterday, the White House issued a call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights” that will give U.S. citizens a finer degree of control over their personal privacy. The proposed bill includes seven governing principles: individual control, transparency, respect for context, security, access and accuracy, focused collection, and accountability.

Now, Google has agreed to support the Do-Not-Track button and will add it to Chrome within nine months. You may remember that the Federal Trade Commission called for the adoption of a Do-Not-Track button on Web browsers two years ago. In theory, it would allow consumers more autonomy in sharing their own personal privacy with third parties. Nevertheless, when Firefox and Internet Explorer added Do-Not-Track buttons, users were still tracked by advertisers and companies that hadn’t agreed to honor the arrangement. What is it they say about good intentions?

Meanwhile, California is attempting to shut down data privacy leaks via mobile applications. The state has reached an agreement with Google, Hewlett-Packard,, Apple, Microsoft and Research In Motion — one that it hopes will protect smartphone users from further privacy breaches like the Path and Google debacles uncovered earlier this month.

When it comes to the Internet and government intervention, we have to be mindful of the careful dance around precedent. We applaud when the U.S. government tries to protect us from data poachers with a privacy bill of rights, but just a month ago we were up in arms about the Stop Online Piracy Act. So, which is it going to be? Do we want the government regulating the Internet or don’t we? As you well know, I tend to have a cold, black heart that’s filled to the brim with pessimism about Internet privacy; the Do-Not-Track button and the White House’s privacy bill of rights feel to me like security theatre.

What do you think? Will the Do-Not-Track button make a difference in upholding consumer data privacy? Is it the role of government to regulate the Internet? The comments are waiting to hear from you.

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