U.S. Commerce Chief Wants Standards to Aid Consumer Web Privacy

The U.S. Commerce Department will propose ways to ensure consumers’ online privacy in a report to be released in coming weeks, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said.

“There needs to be a baseline of standards and best practices across the industry with clear notice to consumers so that they really understand what’s happening,” Locke said today in an interview at Bloomberg’s office in Washington.

Lawmakers and regulators have begun to focus on Internet privacy, with members of Congress and the Federal Trade Commission considering measures to help consumers avoid having information collected by marketers when they visit Web sites. Such personal data-gathering underpins an online advertising market that may reach $26 billion this year.

Privacy protection is “obviously important” for consumers, Locke said.

“It’s also critical for U.S. businesses, because people’s lack of trust that their information will be safe, or that their personal habits will be kept private, is one of the major hurdles preventing the expansion” of electronic commerce, he said.

Commerce may propose voluntary standards, or “a scheme that Congress may want to look at,” Locke said. He didn’t provide a date for the report’s release.