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Monday, November 23, 2009

Regulators Issue Final Model Privacy Notice

By Mehmet Munur

On November 17, eight federal regulators issued final rules and model privacy notice forms as required under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. While the use of the notice forms are not required, the two-page forms create a safe-harbor for disclosures required under the GLBA.

The notice forms replace the Sample Clauses previously issued by the regulators. The regulators stated that their studies “confirm[ed] that a notice composed solely of the Sample Clauses promotes ease of scanning to perform simple tasks – because the notice is short and not because it is understandable – but the Sample Clauses do not do well on comprehension measures. Moreover, the testing showed that current notices – in which the Sample Clauses are typically embedded – do poorly on all measures.” Therefore, the regulators appear to want to increase the use of the model clauses as much as possible.

The FTC has been pushing for alternate means of providing notice to individuals for some time. The FTC noted in its February 2009 Behavioral Advertising Staff Report that “privacy policies have become long and difficult to understand, and may not be an effective way to communicate information to consumers. Staff therefore encourages companies to design innovative ways – outside of the privacy policy – to provide behavioral advertising disclosures and choice options to consumers.” Then in its recent Sears Enforcement, FTC stated that Sears failed to “disclose adequately that the software application, when installed, would: monitor nearly all of the Internet behavior that occurs on consumers’ computers.” Sears had mentioned the broad nature of data collection only in the 75th line of a legal agreement. Then in August, FTC once again mentioned the Sears enforcement and the need to provide better notice in the Health Breach Notification Rule; stating “[b]uried disclosures in lengthy privacy policies do not satisfy the standard of ‘meaningful choice.’” FTC will be conducting Privacy Roundtables in the near future. We expect the highlights notices, model privacy notices, and Carnegie Mellon’s Nutrition Label Approach to privacy statements to take center stage in these roundtables.

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