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Business takes heed as Internet privacy laws and regulations go global

High-profile data breaches earlier this year captured the attention of both corporations conducting online business and the legislators charged with overseeing key Internet privacy laws and regulations. Now, countries all over the globe are pushing to expand consumers’ Internet privacy rights.

Late last month during the G8 summit in France, French President Nicolas Sarkozy led the call for tougher Internet privacy rights and copyright laws. Sarkozy even organized the two-day-long “eG8,” held just prior to the G8 summit, designed specifically “for debate and collective reflection on a wide number of key themes involving the Internet.”

Both Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt attended the G8 summit and spoke out against acting hastily when implementing Internet privacy laws and regulations. They warned that new rules could potentially hinder innovation if the ramifications of such rules were not carefully considered.

Also last month, the U.K.-based Information Commissioner’s Office announced that organizations and businesses that run websites aimed at U.K. consumers have up to 12 months to “get their house in order” before enforcement of the new E.U. “cookies” law begins. The new European Union requirements demand that U.K. businesses and organizations running websites in the U.K. get the consent of their sites’ visitors prior to storing cookies on their computers.

In April, India adopted new privacy rules as part of the country’s Information Technology Act. Under the mandates, organizations must notify individuals when their personal information is collected, make a privacy policy readily available and take steps to secure personal information. The Washington Post reported that companies that outsource to India or have offices could view the rules as too restrictive, and several companies (including Google) voiced displeasure regarding the Indian privacy mandates.

These examples, coupled with a slew of “Do Not Track” proposals being discussed in the U.S., indicate that businesses across the globe will eventually be forced to adhere to many more Internet privacy laws and regulations than in the past. And this process will not be without its headaches.

As more countries explore the depth and scope of Internet privacy rights, several questions will have to be answered. If one country adopts a set of Internet privacy rights, how does this affect foreign businesses that conduct business there? Is there any way to establish global Internet privacy mandates? How can Internet privacy be balanced with online commerce? In addition to the concerns voiced by Schmidt and Zuckerberg, there have been questions raised by businesses and marketers about how compliance with Internet privacy laws and regulations will affect the bottom line.

There’s no question that something must be done to protect online consumers from Internet piracy. There just has to be the right balance between the Internet privacy rights and business continuity — which is most definitely easier said than done.

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