Standing Alone, Microsoft Asks Feds for Privacy Legislation

Amazon, Google and Twitter Pushed Against Privacy Legislation

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Microsoft used the Obama administration's request for comment on its big data report to bemoan the U.S. government's surveillance practices while also demanding federal legislation.

The company stood alone among its tech brethren in its support of comprehensive federal privacy legislation, as firms including Amazon, Google, and Twitter pushed against a new law.

It's a matter of trust in foreign markets, said the Redmond firm. "Without new privacy legislation, U.S. companies will find themselves increasingly disadvantaged compared to foreign providers that will compete against U.S. companies in their home and other jurisdictions based on more protective privacy regimes," wrote David Heiner, Microsoft's VP and deputy general counsel, legal and corporate affairs, in an Aug. 5 letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

"Over time, absent sound rules of the road, it will likely become harder for U.S. companies to keep the trust of consumers worldwide. Already, some customers for cloud services in foreign markets are turning towards local solutions instead of U.S. providers, precisely because they (and their regulators) do not trust to the sufficiency of U.S. privacy laws."

A May report on big data from the White House discussed negative uses of data and analytics such as discriminatory pricing. The NTIA collected comments, published Wednesday, from privacy advocates, trade groups and individual tech companies in response to the report.

Last summer the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation predicted as much as $35 billion could be siphoned from the U.S. cloud computing market by 2016 if foreign clients pull business from U.S.-based cloud services. Cloud technology is the backbone of countless technology vendors in the data and advertising industry.

Calling it "perhaps the biggest challenge to building public confidence in the cloud and other emerging technologies that rely on big data," Microsoft suggested in its missive that "to fully address the protection of consumer privacy in the era of big data, legislative reform must also address how law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and other government agencies access and handle personal information. This is perhaps the biggest challenge to building public confidence in the cloud and other emerging technologies that rely on big data."

In April Microsoft touted the approval of its cloud-storage technology by the European Union's data privacy authorities. In the exploding cloud-storage market, Microsoft competes with Google and Amazon for clients such as ad tech vendors, ecommerce sites and other firms that gather and use data to run their operations.

In stark contrast, The Internet Association, a group of digital companies including Amazon, Google, Ebay, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo, fought the notion of new privacy legislation. "At this time, any legislative proposal, to address 'big data' may result in a 'precautionary principle problem' that hinders the advancement of technologies and innovative services before they even develop."

The Interactive Advertising Bureau and Direct Marketing Association also used their comments on the big data report to reinforce their opposition to privacy legislation, alluding to self-regulatory approaches to using consumer data for ad targeting, primarily the Digital Advertising Alliances Ad Choices program.

"In the IAB's view, it has not been demonstrated that big data presents new concerns that cannot be addressed through the existing framework and regulatory approach."

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