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Consumer Confidential: Economy on the mend, a push for online privacy, free shipping

December 16, 2010 | 10:24 am

Sunpic Here's your thought-provoking Thursday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- What's that bright light? Could it be a ray of sunshine for our storm-ravaged economy? Economists are beginning to think that 2011 may not be so gloomy after all as a series of upbeat reports usher in the New Year. The latest is word that jobless claims dipped by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000 -- not great, but moving in the right direction. This after reports showing factories are producing more, shoppers are spending more and business executives and consumers are more optimistic. What's it all mean? Cook it all together and, hopefully, you get jobs.

-- Does it bug you that your comings and goings online are often tracked by Web marketers? Or that your personal info may be shared among Internet companies? Me too. Happily, our friends at the Commerce Department are proposing a "privacy bill of rights" for Internet users to set ground rules for companies that collect consumer data online. The proposal is intended to address growing unease about the vast amounts of personal info that companies are scooping up on the Net -- from browsing habits to smart phone locations to Facebook preferences. That data is often mined to target advertising. You can be sure, though, that tech heavyweights will fight hard to keep anything like this from passing in Congress.

-- Speaking of cyberspace, a little heads up: Friday is Free Shipping Day on the Web, and hundreds of big-name merchants are participating. You can already find out many of them at the website for the grand occasion, but others will be unveiled at midnight Thursday. Some will offer free shipping for an entire order and some for only select orders, but all in all it's a sweet deal.

-- David Lazarus

Photo: It might be a whole new day for the economy. Credit: Lewis H. Abulafia