White House wants to police Internet privacy

Obama administration to propose new laws, creation of watchdog. Why am I skeptical?

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After years of watching Internet companies (yes, I'm looking at you, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) take increasing liberties with personal data they collect from online users, the government finally has concluded that some concrete regulations might be a good idea.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. Commerce Department is preparing a report that calls for the creation of new laws to police Internet policy and for a new government watchdog to monitor Internet companies.

As part of this overall effort, the White House is forming a special task force to turn the Commerce Department recommendations into policy, the WSJ reports.

Anyone who has read recently about the Google wi-spy case knows that the U.S. government basically has done nothing to protect Internet consumers, unless you call lecturing Google "something" (which I don't). Sure, the FCC is now picking up the ball that the FTC recently dropped regarding wi-spy, but don't expect that investigation to result in any punishment or create a deterrent against future transgressions.

So will new laws and a "watchdog" actually help prevent (or at least reduce) the abuse of personal information by Internet companies and their advertisers? Unfortunately, experience tells me they very well may not. If the Internet company lobbyists have a hand in creating new laws -- as oil companies did in crafting energy regulations during the Bush administration -- it will all be a feel-good virtual fig leaf. Worse, it'll be a farce.

The bigger farce, of course, is the premise that Internet companies will voluntarily do the right thing, which leads to the comic relief portion of the WSJ article:

Opponents of legislation say the industry is committed to providing tools to give consumers better insight into and control over data about themselves.

They are committed! Just like the mining companies. And BP. And agribusiness. Committed to doing the right thing, because it's the right thing!

Please.

All that being said, I'm also waiting for the creation of a watchdog that will protect U.S. citizens from the government violating our privacy over the Internet (I'm looking at you, NSA).

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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