Sen. Kerry to introduce Internet privacy bill, momentum for federal rules builds
Updated 8:10 p.m.
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Communications Subcommittee, said Tuesday that he will introduce an online privacy bill that will create standards for how consumer data is collected and used for marketing. It will also give users more control over how their Internet activity and profiles are accessed by advertisers and Web sites.
Kerry's bill, announced in a news release during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on consumer online privacy, comes after two privacy bills were introduced in the House in recent months that would protect sensitive information such as health and financial data unless expressly volunteered to be collected by users. Kerry said he hopes his bill will be passed at the beginning of the next Congress.
The legislative proposals add momentum to a push by consumer groups to create stronger federal rules for how companies such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google can track user activity and place ads based on that information. Facebook faced criticism for creating complex changes to its privacy polices late last year that made some information more available to the public. Apple and AT&T were criticized for a data breach that revealed the network identities of its iPad users. Google said it accidentally snooped on residential Wi-Fi networks around the world as it collected technical information for location-based applications.
"Our ability to control what information is collected, used and disclosed about us is central to how we want the world to view us, and that, in turn, affects our ability to seek out opportunity in both social and economic spheres," Kerry said in a statement. "But currently, there is widespread confusion among our constituents and colleagues about what power we have over those practices."
The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, noted that Web sites and advertisers have been working to come up with their own rules for how to collect and use information in a way that doesn't violate privacy rights.
"It is in the hands of the private sector," Leibowitz said in answer to questions from Senate lawmakers in the hearing. "If they want to do a better job of ensuring consumers have clear choices going forward and rules and notice, it is in their hands to avoid legislation. If they don't, we will see in the next Congress more interest in moving forward on more proscriptive rules."
Leibowitz also said the agency plans to come up with recommendations for online privacy guidelines this fall. Among ideas being discussed at the FTC is a Do Not Track registry, much like the Do Not Call registry, that Internet users can sign up for to make sure their information isn't collected without their permission.
July 27, 2010; 8:10 PM ET
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