Online Privacy Protections - Morning Business Memo

White House working on consumer bill of privacy rights. Google logo is displayed on computer screens, in  this Jan. 20, 2011, file photo.

The Obama administration has called for stronger online privacy protections. Mobile devices, Internet services and apps often track what you do and where you go. The president says consumer trust is essential for a growing digital economy. Officials today will outline a proposed consumer privacy bill of rights to give people more control over the personal data collected about them. Google and several other large Internet firms have agreed to support a Do-Not-Track button in web browsers. That's a reversal of their previous position. Consumers would be able to tell companies if they want their online activity tracked.

A tale of two computer companies: While Apple profits soared, rival Hewlett Packard announced a 44 percent plunge in quarterly earnings. Sales of personal computers and printers declined. HP's new CEO Meg Whitman said there's no quick fix. In a conference call, Whitman said she wanted to invest more over the long term on business services, security and cloud computing.

Apartment rentals are rising in many parts of the country, as some consumers who could qualify for a mortgage are reluctant to buy a home in the housing slump. USA Today reports the market has swung in favor of landlords. "About a quarter of all apartments nationwide offered some type of concession in past year's fourth quarter. By comparison, 53 percent of apartments offered concessions in the first quarter of 2010," according to data tracker MPF Research's latest report.

A federal judge has ruled oil giant BP and one of its minority partners are liable for civil penalties under the Clean Water Act for their roles in the nation's worst offshore oil spill. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier also ruled that Deepwater Horizon rig owner Transocean Ltd. may be liable under the same law as an "operator" of the well. The judge, however, said he couldn't decide before a trial scheduled to start Feb. 27 whether Transocean meets the definition of that term.

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