Lawmakers, Inching Toward A Privacy Bill, Question 'Data-Mining Reapers'

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The hearing, held by the Subcommittees on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection and Communications, Technology, and the Internet, addressed both online and offline data collection. Witnesses included WPP's George Pappachen, privacy advocates Chris Hoofnagle of Berkeley and Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum, as well as representatives from Wal-Mart, Acxiom and LearningResources.com.


But Hoofnagle said that new laws might not change people's attitudes because many consumers currently operate under the mistaken impression that sites with privacy policies aren't allowed to share data.

Much recent debate has centered on whether Web companies should obtain consumers' explicit consent to collecting data, or should merely allow them to opt out.

But Hoofnagle argued that neither opt-in or opt-out would protect consumers. "It is easy to trick people into opting in," he said. "It is easy to manipulate people into not opting out."

Instead, he urged Congress to limit the length of time data can be retained.