Public data vs. privacy protections

Widespread sharing of information poses challenges for data firms

SAN FRANCISCO — When it comes to federal regulation of personal privacy information, the U.S. is a bit like the Old West.

The closest the federal government comes to a privacy regulator is the Federal Trade Commission, said Joanne McNabb, chief of the California Office of Privacy Protection, which was the first state-created agency dedicated to consumer privacy rights when it opened in 2001.

"In the United States we don’t really have a comprehensive regulation of personal information privacy — this contrasts with a lot of the rest of the developed world, where they do have a comprehensive approach," said McNabb, who participated on a panel focused on privacy issues during the first-ever Inman News Data Summit, held July 25-26, 2011.

And complicating privacy is the fact that we are "living in the public square," due to the march of communications technology and the widespread sharing and dissemination of personal information, said Terence Craig, a panelist who is CEO for Pattern Builders, a data analytics firm.

"It’s very hard to have real privacy unless you want to drop off the grid, and I don’t think most people are willing to give up (their participation in online communities)," Craig said.