Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who is also the President, of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), has made exploration of privacy issues the digital age centerpiece of his tenure as NAAG president.

“People have different ideas of what is private,” he said in his keynote presentation today at DMA in DC.   Consider the TSA practices in airports, he said.  We put up with a lot of inconvenience and potentially disturbing intrusions, but we do it because they tell us it’s necessary.  “Now, if they said they needed to strip search us in front of  everyone, well, you might start taking the train.

“There is a limit to where you are willing to compromise your privacy,” he said.  The state AG offices aim to understand that boundary.

He gave Google as an example of how this translates to industry.  Recall when Google wanted to change their practices to use the information in your email messages to target advertising.  “That is like listening to your phone calls and sending ads in the mail  to your house,” Mr. Gansler said.  “Especially because Google wanted to use data from anything that I did in the Google ecosystem, we in the NAAG got concerned.”

The result is that NAAG officers had a dialogue with Google and others about what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate.   “Some companies are responsible. Some aren’t,” he said.

The biggest issue NAAG tackles is around online purchase.  “When a human being buys a product, what happens to their information, and do they know? Is there a privacy policy is accessible to them?  How hard is it to find that privacy policy? Will they be tracked on the Internet? Do they know what that means?” he posed to the room.

Mr. Gansler acknowledged that the conversation around relevant ads being better than irrelevant ads is ongoing.  “But, what is happening to that data, and if it’s being sold does some of that revenue come back to the individual?” he asked.

Consumers come to the Consumer Protection Bureaus of the states to help them navigate these issues, he said.  “How can a consumer take on Google?”  There is a role for the AG offices to help.    “Consumers might want to have someone on their side, which is what we try to provide,” he said.

Mr. Gansler is actively working on issues in Maryland around geo-location tracking, data collection, mobile privacy and children’s privacy.  DMA is actively working with others in the industry to work with Mr. Gansler and his office on these and other key privacy issues.

Other issues that Mr. Gansler and the NAAG are addressing:

  • Cyber bullying.
  • Children’s issues.  We believe that children don’t know the difference between ads and content.  We want to be able to label an ad, Mr. Gansler said.  “Let’s have a type of Saturday morning cartoon standard for ads to children.  Most parents are educated about children’s protection, but that doesn’t mean they are happy, or think that the industry approaches are right,” he says.
  • International privacy and copyright protection
  • Corporate Intellectual Property, and protecting against counterfeit knock off ads.
  • Devices.  “This will be our wallet in a few years,” he says, holding up his smart phone.  “It will be our car keys.   We’ll have no checkout lines.  But what protections are being done?“
  • Data Security
  • Cyber Security

We try to get a lot of different sides to each story, Mr. Gansler says,  “It’s not us against them or them against us, but people want to know that their privacy is being protected, without compromising the wonderful tool that is the Internet. “

The Attorneys General want all of us to use this data without putting people’s personal privacy at risk – which is something on which everyone in data driven marketing can agree!

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