Industry Opposition to the FTC’s Nutrition Facts Privacy Label

by Jeff Sovern

According to an article in Evan Hendricks's Privacy Times from October 24 (I'm behind in my reading), the FTC is working on a standardized privacy label akin to the nutrition facts labeling on food.  The label is to focus on five main items.  Not so readable as a single grade, but it still sounds more readable than what we have now (though I have on my pile of things to get to a study that shows that consumers won't read standardized privacy tables, but maybe this is a different kind of label; as I say, I haven't gotten to that study yet, so I just don't know).  In any event, how does the industry react?  Well, the headline of the Privacy Times story tells it all: "Leibowitz's 'Nutrition Labels' Sparks Pushback from Industry."  And what is the basis of this pushback?  Concern for the consumer.  One big firm lawyer is quoted as saying that she isn't certain that five elements are going to tell consumers any more information than they already have.  Another is concerned that nuances will be lost.  Very thoughtful of them.  But given that it appears that most consumers already don't read privacy policies, could it be that many consumers are not getting any information, much less picking up on nuances?  Could it also be that some businesses benefit when consumers don't read privacy policies because it allows the businesses to do what they want with consumer information–and that businesses that have that freedom don't want to lose it by having consumers understand privacy policies and take them into account in deciding which businesses to patronize?  Might that be a reason for businesses to oppose simpler disclosures–one that businesses dare not acknowledge?

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