Tim Cook: Time for action on data privacy

{Credit: Time)

Apple’s Tim Cook has, in a brief Time op-ed, laid out a mini-manifesto for what sweeping privacy regulation in the US might look like. Here’s the crux:

[W]e believe the Federal Trade Commission should establish a data-broker clearinghouse, requiring all data brokers to register, enabling consumers to track the transactions that have bundled and sold their data from place to place, and giving users the power to delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.

Apple has come in for some criticism lately for talking a big game on data privacy, while simultaneously enabling firms like Facebook and Google to collect it through the iPhone.

But this piece from Cook seems to consider the wider picture, taking aim not so much at the big firms already in the spotlight, but those working behind the scenes to scrape together data from various dubious sources and sell it on to advertisers. For a dissection of how that can happen, I’d recommend this alarming New York Times investigation published last month.

Here’s what Cook says on these so-called “data brokers”:

Right now, all of these secondary markets for your information exist in a shadow economy that’s largely unchecked—out of sight of consumers, regulators and lawmakers.

Let’s be clear: you never signed up for that. We think every user should have the chance to say, “Wait a minute. That’s my information that you’re selling, and I didn’t consent.”

If Cook’s recommendations come to bear, it will leave the question of what happens to the internet advertising economy if its most important commodity – personal data – is restricted.