2

Jackie Speier offers online, financial privacy bills

Worried that Facebook, Google or some other online entity is collecting, using and sharing data on your online activities? Rep. Jackie Speier says she has your back, with one of two bills she introduced today aimed at protecting people’s personal information.

The Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011 (H.R. 654) aims to give consumers the ability to prevent the collection and use of data on their online activities, directing the Federal Trade Commission to develop standards for a “Do Not Track” mechanism so people can choose upfront to opt out of the collection, use or sale of their online activities, and require covered entities to respect the consumer’s choice. Failure to do so would be considered an unfair or deceptive act punishable by law. The covered entity would have to disclose its collection and sharing practices, including with whom the information is shared. The bill would allow the FTC to exempt commonly accepted commercial practices like the collection of information for billing purposes.

“People have a right to surf the web without Big Brother watching their every move and announcing it to the world,” said Speier, D-Hillsborough. “The internet marketplace has matured, and it is time for consumers’ protections to keep pace.”

Speier cited a USA Today poll released Tuesday that showed that 70 percent of Facebook members and 52 percent of Google users say they are either “somewhat” or “very concerned” about their privacy.

“It’s crucial that Americans have as much control over their online privacy as possible and this bill is a welcome and important first step toward that goal,” American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese said. “Signing on to the Internet shouldn’t mean signing away your privacy. Americans must have a mechanism in place to opt out of having their online habits tracked so that they can protect their most sensitive information. A ‘do not track’ list is a logical and common sense place to start. We urge the House to make this bill a priority.”

Speier also introduced the Financial Information Privacy Act of 2011 (H.R. 653), which aims to give consumers control of their own financial information. The bill mirrors a California law Speier steered to passage that prevents financial institutions from sharing or selling personally identifiable nonpublic information with affiliates without an opportunity to opt-out, or in the case of unaffiliated third parties, a requirement that consumers opt-in.

“Because of the law we passed in California, consumers now have the clear and simple ability to prevent financial institutions from sharing their personal information,” Speier said. “Every American deserves that right.”

1

Yee’s phone-book bill bites the dust

Remember how state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, announced in February a bill to stop doorstep delivery of telephone directories in California unless a customer opts in to receive it? Well, even after being softened so that it merely would have strengthened already-existing rules to allow customers to opt out, the bill now is as dead as the trees those books are printed on, and Yee says a telecommunications giant is to blame.

rrrrrripYee said Californians Against Waste, Environment California, Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League, and the Sierra Club agreed with him that Unused phonebooks are a major source of waste and a significant environmental burden for local municipalities, but AT&T convinced his legislative peers otherwise. SB 920 went down to defeat on the state Senate floor today on a 12-18 vote.

“AT&T put their own financial interests before the interests of their customers,” Yee said in a statement issued afterward. “At a time when we are looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, Californians deserved a choice and the opportunity to opt-out of receiving a directory. Killing this bill will result in further degradation of our environment, a loss in much-needed local resources, and millions of consumers forced to accept unneeded and unwanted phonebooks.”

More than 78 million telephone directories are distributed annually to California business and residential telephone consumers. The Product Stewardship Institute says telephone books represent 660,000 tons of waste per year, with local governments bearing the costs to recycle or otherwise dispose of them. Yee cites a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report which says not publishing a phone book reduces greenhouse gases by about three times as much as recycling.

The California Chamber of Commerce had argued against the bill, saying these directories are still the main source of phone-number information for consumers, especially those over age 45 and those with income under $25,000 per year. It also said the bill unfairly saddles the phone companies with responsibility to ensure no other, third-party directories are delivered to customers who haven’t opted in. And, it said, doing away with the books would both hurt small businesses that advertise in the directories and diminish the market for recycled paper.

UPDATE @ 5:07 P.M. MONDAY 6/7: The Yellow Pages Association – a trade organization representing an industry worth an estimated $12 billion in the United States – weighed in, calling the bill’s defeat good riddance.

The group said the bill would’ve added layers of government regulation on companies that help small businesses market themselves, employ thousands of Californians and contribute millions in state taxes.

“The defeat of this legislation is welcome news to local businesses that rely on directory advertising to get customers in the door during this difficult economy,” YPA President Neg Norton said in a news release. “We’re pleased that California officials made the right decision by rejecting unnecessary government regulation on companies that help small businesses market themselves and risk thousands of jobs and millions in state taxes from directory publishers.”

The YPA says almost three of every four California adults used the print Yellow Pages at least once in the past year for local information, according to research released in March by an independent marketing reseach firm.; one in three used it at least once in the past week. Yee’s urban constituency is more online-savvy, the group noted, but the bill overlooked the needs of suburban and rural users. And an industry website provides a tool for people wishing to limit or stop home delivery.

12

Yee: Ditch the dead-tree phone books

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco introduced a bill today that would stop doorstep delivery of white-pages telephone directories in California unless a customer opts in to receive it.

rrrrrripThe California Public Utilities Commission since 1995 has included telephone directory delivery as part of the universal service all telephone companies must provide; the rationale was that providing free white pages would minimize calls to directory assistance and promote distribution of advertising.

“The requirement that phone companies must deliver the white pages comes from an era before the internet and other means of obtaining phone numbers,” Yee said in a news release today. “At a time when Californians are looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, we should give them that choice, particularly when very few customers still use the white pages.”

Under Yee’s SB 920, telephone companies would have to get a customer’s consent before a white page directory could be delivered; the bill doesn’t specify how, but Yee envisions a check-off box on the monthly bill or a toll-free number for customers to call. Cleveland and Miami have adopted similar local laws.

The Product Stewardship Institute says telephone books represent 660,000 tons of waste per year, with local governments bearing the costs to recycle or otherwise dispose of them. Yee cites a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report which says not publishing a phone book reduces greenhouse gases by about three times as much as recycling.

Yee’s bill is backed by Californians Against Waste, as well as by Phonebook Free SF, a grassroots effort to push a similar policy in San Francisco.