STUDY: Internet privacy concerns could stymie economic growth - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

STUDY: Internet privacy concerns could stymie economic growth

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Many consumers worry about how data-keepers use their private information, which may hinder the growth of the internet economy. (Source: Ruth Suehle/opensource.com/Flickr) Many consumers worry about how data-keepers use their private information, which may hinder the growth of the internet economy. (Source: Ruth Suehle/opensource.com/Flickr)

(RNN) - While civil rights and privacy groups battle against and work with lawmakers to create user-friendly online data policies, a study found clarification on privacy rights is key to keeping the online economy robust.

A report released in March from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) says that if the internet were its own country, its economy would rank higher than Germany, France, Brazil and Canada as the fifth-largest on Earth by 2016. The shift would employ an estimated 32 million more people worldwide.

However, if consumers continue to feel like groups that hold user data fall into a legal gray area when it comes to how they use and share personal information, the lack of trust could stymie growth.

And fears over data use aren't just limited to social media companies, but also companies and groups who collect electronic records, such as hospitals and online retailers.

A study released last week by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and BCG found the creation of privacy rules which balance an individual's right to privacy with the potential good private information can be used for is fundamental to developing an even more robust internet economy.

"The borderless flow of personal data requires individuals, business leaders and policy-makers to all coordinate in innovative ways to unlock its long-term value," said Alan Marcus, senior director of IT and Telecommunications at WEF.

According to Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust - and social media users - it's important for companies and governments to hold groups accountable for keeping information safe and safeguarding against potential breeches.

It's also important that both take into account all the "stakeholders" involved in privacy debates - including both individuals who share information and companies that keep it.

"Appropriate use of personal data can lead to the creation of new forms of economic value," said John Rose, senior partner and managing director of BCG. "It can foster significant social value, benefiting industry, individuals and governments alike."

The report points to the potential for personal, private data to serve the greater good, so to speak. In 2004, an analysis of records from Kaiser Permanente helped lead to the recall of the once popular Vioxx drug. Records reviewed showed the drug made it more likely for patients to suffer through a heart attack than patients who took the drug's rival.

"The issue remains how to establish mechanisms that allow such good uses while preventing less desirable ones," the report said.

Congress has been tasked with dealing with the less desirable uses of private data as information-sharing has become more and more popular over the years. A number of Congress's attempt to address the issue have been met with pushback from privacy advocates who claim that so far all attempts have been too reminiscent of a "big brother" mentality.

Currently, lawmakers in the Senate are considering the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection (CISPA) Act. As in the past, the law has been called "too broad" by groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Group.

The House has already passed the legislation, although advisors for the president have said they will ask him to veto it if it ends up on his desk.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

Suggestions for raising consumer trust (sidebar)

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How to balance "the greater good" with privacy rights A report released by the World Economic Forum and the Boston Consulting Group found the lack of consumer trust in companies (and even the government) More>>

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