By Caleb Skeath

During the White House’s inaugural Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection last Friday, President Obama signed an executive order designed to facilitate increased information sharing between the private sector and the federal government.  The order follows the introduction of the Cyber Threat Sharing Act of 2015 in the Senate, an information-sharing bill modeled on the legislative proposal released by the White House in January.


Continue Reading President Obama Signs Executive Order to Encourage Information Sharing

Yesterday the White House released a report discussing how companies are using big data to charge different prices to different customers, a practice known as price discrimination or differential pricing.  The report describes the benefits of big data for sellers and buyers alike, and concludes that many concerns raised by big data and differential pricing can be addressed by existing antidiscrimination and consumer protection laws.

Big Data and Personalized Pricing 

“Big data” refers to the ability to gather large volumes of data, often from multiple sources, and use it to produce new kinds of observations, measurements, and predictions about individual consumers.  Thus, big data has made it easier for sellers to target different populations with customized marketing and pricing plans.

The White House report identifies two trends driving the increased application of big data to marketing and consumer analytics.  The first trend is the widespread adoption of new information technology platforms, most importantly the Internet and the smartphone.  These platforms give businesses access to a wide variety of applications like search engines, maps, blogs, and music or video streaming services.  In turn, these applications create new ways for businesses to interact with consumers, which produce new sources and types of data, including (1) a user’s location via mapping software; (2) their browser and search history; (3) the songs and videos they have streamed; (4) their retail purchase history; and (5) the contents of their online reviews and blog posts.  Sellers can use these new types of information to make educated guesses about consumer characteristics like location, gender, and income.  The second trend is the growth of the ad-supported business model, and the creation of a secondary market in consumer information.  The ability to place ads that are targeted to a specific audience based on their personal characteristics makes information about consumers’ characteristics particularly valuable to businesses.  This, in turn, has fostered a growing industry of data brokers and information intermediaries who buy and sell customer lists and other data used by marketers to assemble digital profiles of individual consumers.
Continue Reading White House Issues Report on Big Data and Differential Pricing

By Caleb Skeath

Last week, Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Bobby Rush (D-IL) re-introduced the Data Accountability and Trust Act (DATA Act) in the House of Representatives.  The bill (H.R. 580), which has been introduced several times in previous years, would provide a nationwide data security standard, backed by FTC enforcement and civil penalties, as well as provisions requiring notification to affected individuals in the event of a data breach.  Meanwhile, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced a similar bill, the Data Security and Breach Notification Act (S. 177) this week the Senate.  The Senate bill is also a re-introduction of a previous bill, which would provide FTC-enforced security standards and individual breach notifications.

Although the text of the DATA Act has not yet been released, a release from the bill’s sponsors stated that the bill will be “substantially similar” to prior versions.  According to the release, the bill will define “personal information” to include an individual’s name in connection with (1) a Social Security number, (2) a driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued identification number, or (3) a financial account or credit or debit card number in combination with a security code or password that would permit access to an individual’s financial account.  Commercial entities that own or process personal information would be required to implement effective information security procedures and policies to safeguard that information.  Following a breach, entities would have to notify the affected individuals, in addition to the FTC.  The FTC and state attorney generals would enforce the provisions of the bill, which would allow for civil penalties of up to $5 million for violations.  The bill’s sponsors have announced a public briefing on the bill on February 6, during which they will provide more information about the bill’s provisions.
Continue Reading Data Breach Notification Bills Introduced in House and Senate

By Caleb Skeath

Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held its first hearing of the new Congress, entitled “Protecting America from Cyber Attacks: The Importance of Information Sharing.”  The hearing focused in large part on the White House’s recent information sharing proposal, which would protect private entities from

This morning, the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, chaired by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), held a hearing to determine what elements should be included in federal data breach legislation.  Despite the momentum for legislation created by high-profile breaches at retailers like Target and Home Depot, and most recently at Sony, ongoing efforts in both the House and Senate to replace with a national standard the 47 currently existing state data breach laws so far have been unsuccessful.  This activity in the House is yet another attempt to enact a federal law governing data security, and today’s hearing made clear that many practical questions still remain for lawmakers to “get it right” on a data breach bill, as Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) said.
Continue Reading House Debates Federal Data Breach Legislation

Data security and privacy concerns received special attention in President Obama’s State of the Union address last night.  As expected, the President advocated his recently released data security and privacy legislative proposals, which InsidePrivacy has covered extensively.

With regard to data security, President Obama urged Congress to pass legislation to guard against cyber-attacks, combat

During his speech earlier this week at the Federal Trade Commission, President Obama unveiled a set of proposals to enhance student privacy protections.  These proposals will include publishing a draft Student Digital Privacy Act, promoting an existing Student Privacy Pledge for educational technology providers, and introducing new privacy tools through the Department of Education.
Continue Reading President Obama Proposes New Legislation and Model Terms of Service to Protect Student Privacy

On Tuesday, President Obama announced his proposal for legislation that would encourage sharing of cyber threat information between the public and private sector by shielding private entities from liability for sharing information on cyber threats. The White House has since released the text of the proposed bill, which includes limitations on liability for private entities along with a mandate to develop policies and procedures to address privacy concerns. In comparison with previous failed attempts to enact similar legislation, the current White House proposal offers increased privacy protections and more narrowly defined exemptions from liability, but it remains to be seen whether this proposal can succeed where others have failed.
Continue Reading Analysis of President Obama’s Information Sharing Legislation

The Department of Energy and the Federal Smart Grid Task Force released the final version of a Voluntary Code of Conduct (VCC) for smart grid data privacy on Monday, several hours after President Obama heralded the release of the VCC as part of his speech on privacy and cybersecurity at the Federal Trade Commission.  The VCC is the result of a multi-year effort by the Department of Energy and the Federal Smart Grid Task Force to collaborate with industry stakeholders to develop a voluntary code of conduct that addresses smart grid privacy concerns.  The VCC does not supersede any federal, state, or local laws or regulations.  Instead, it serves as a set of “high level principles of conduct for both utilities and third parties.”  The VCC does, however, contemplate that entities could adopt the VCC with “limited exceptions” where required by other laws or regulations.
Continue Reading Department of Energy, Federal Smart Grid Task Force Release Smart Grid Voluntary Code of Conduct to Address Data Privacy Concerns