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New Bill on the Way for Online Privacy

As expected for some months now, the House will soon take up the online privacy debate, according to a story Monday by the Associated Press.

But a bill expected to be introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-W.Va.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, will likely be moderate and won't call for the greater protections privacy advocates want, nor the easier rules advertisers and online sites want.

Boucher's bill will seek a middle ground in a long-running debate over what the default assumptions should be when companies monitor consumers' online interests.

"Our goal is not to hinder online advertising," he said in the story. "This will make people more likely to trust electronic commerce and the Internet."

The debate has focused on new rules over opt-in functions for users to choose whether to have their data collected by online advertisers and sites or not. Privacy watchdogs say Web sites should ask permission from users first through opt-in functions to ensure users are aware of
what kinds of data are being collected about their online behavior. Web sites and advertisers, meanwhile, say an opt-in mandate confuses consumers and overwhelms users with privacy notices.

The Associated Press said that Boucher will likely set different rules for different types of sites:

Sites that collect visitor information in order to target advertising on their own pages, for instance, would have to offer consumers a chance to opt out of having their interests tracked. These sites would also be required to prominently disclose what information they collect and provide a detailed description of how that information is used.

Web sites that deal with sensitive personal information, such as medical and financial data, sexual orientation, Social Security numbers and other ID numbers, would have to ask users to opt in to being tracked.

By Cecilia Kang  |  September 8, 2009; 10:10 AM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
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