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Posted at 11:09 AM ET, 12/ 1/2010

FTC recommends 'Do Not Track' program in Internet privacy report

By Cecilia Kang

The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday released a much-anticipated report outlining recommendations to protect the privacy of consumers on the Internet, including establishment of a "Do Not Track" mechanism.

Included are several ideas aimed at helping make it easier for consumers to understand what information is being collected and used about them. The guidelines that would prevent third-parties from collecting sensitive information about users such health and financial data. The agency also raises concerns about practices like deep packet inspection -- the peering of Internet service providers into user activity. Such practices would require greater safeguards for Internet users, the FTC said.

"The FTC wants to help ensure that the growing, changing, thriving information marketplace is built on a framework that promotes privacy, transparency, business innovation and consumer choice,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a release, saying a largely self-regulatory approach to privacy on the Web has fallen short.

The recommended "Do Not Track" mechanism would provide a blanket technological solution for users who don’t want data collected about them for advertising. The idea is borrowed from the popular Do Not Call registry, but it would be implemented differently.

The FTC said it supports a Do Not Track program that would have to be established by legislation or potentially “robust, enforceable self-regulation” by advertisers and Web companies. Such a mechanism would likely be a persistent cookie on a consumer’s browser that would convey to Web sites that the user doesn’t want to be tracked or receive targeted advertising. Leibowitz said in a call with reporters that Google, Apple and Mozilla have all experimented with Do Not Call browser technology.

“Such a mechanism would ensure that consumers would not have to exercise choices on a company-by-company or industry-by-industry basis, and that such choices would be persistent,” the FTC said in its report.

The FTC’s report outlined a framework that would require online retailers, social networks, advertisers and online newspapers and magazines to more clearly explain to visitors of their sites how information is being collected and used and to present users with more options on privacy settling. It would require companies to beef up their privacy practices and consider how they deal with data and inform users about their collection of information before products are launched.

The consumer protection agency said it sought to balance a growing concern that users’ information online may be misused and the desires of businesses to collect information for more tailored advertising.

“In developing the proposed framework, staff was cognizant of the need to protect
consumer privacy interests effectively, while also encouraging the development of innovative new products and services that consumers want,” the FTC wrote in the report.

The FTC will take comments on its report until Jan. 31, 2011. The report is meant as a regualtory and legislative guide.

Soon after its release, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) said he would introduce a privacy bill that would give the FTC more rule making authority to carry out some of its recommendations. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has introduced legislation in the House and will hold a hearing on a Do Not Track mechanism Thursday.

"We can take a hybrid approach to enforcement where the most critical rights are protected through rulemaking while others may be subject to a complaint and adjudication process," Kerry said. The FTC, an enforcement agency, has limited rule-making ability.

Kerry's bill would provide greater protection of information that could personally identify an Internet user. The bill will require companies to explain in concise and clear terms what they plan to collect and do with that data. The legislation would also give consumers a clear way to opt out of being tracked on the Web.

"Information collection is now a routine part of commerce, but proper stewardship of information is as important as how it is collected," Kerry said. "

By Cecilia Kang  | December 1, 2010; 11:09 AM ET
Categories:  FTC, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Privacy  
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Given the choice, I would rather have more freedom in how the internet is used along with having more privacy vulnerabilities, than to have it become more bureaucratic and regulated.

I do believe there is a place for government regulation of the internet to protect consumers, but I just hope they do it in a way that doesn't squash the entrepreneurial, pioneering feel of the internet.

Posted by: etin | December 1, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I do love the feel good sound byte.
However, this 'Do Not Track' proposal should really be named 'Do Not Let Me Log In Anywhere'.
While 'tracking' a user sounds nefarious (and *sometimes* is) it also covers allowing someone to log into their webmail account or any website you wish to have a personalized experience with like, say, They keep that info in a cookie. It's a basic function of identification on the internet. How does eBay know you from someone else? They place a cookie on your machine when you log in. Subsequent actions on the eBay site will send that cookie to eBay so that eBay knows who you are.
This is the problem exploited by the 'FireSheep' utility created a few weeks ago. On open wireless networks it simply sniffed that cookie and used it to impersonate you online.
Do Not Track sounds good, but the only way to compare it to 'Do Not Call' is to say you could only receive calls, but couldn't make any. Something no one would have accepted.

Posted by: rpixley220 | December 1, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Etin, can you read? The proposal puts the decision not to be tracked into the hands of the INDIVIDUAL. Any bureaucracy would then enforce the ban on behalf of said individual. Cripes, you baggers are such morons.

The real problem would be that no government agency - with it's low pay and out of date technology - would be able to enforce such a ban. Companies will continue to spy on users and only the savviest users will be able to prevent it.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | December 1, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

"Kerry's bill would provide greater protection of information that could personally identify an Internet user. The bill will require companies to explain in concise and clear terms what they plan to collect and do with that data. The legislation would also give consumers a clear way to opt out of being tracked on the Web."


So!!!! with Kerry's name on the Bill, our very uprighteous GOP Congressmen and women will vote it down. The GOP OBVIOUSLY doesn't care about the needs of the People of the US and A. Downright Amoral!

Posted by: lufrank1 | December 1, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

It would be great if we could have more privacy on the web. But would it actually be effective? The Do-not-call phone list does not seem to be working well. Nuisance/scam calls slip through ever more frequently.

Posted by: bernadete | December 1, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I question the ability/desire of the federal government to do anything to aid consumers as opposed to serving the corporations. I also question the need for further federal intervention in our lives. We have no privacy now, and the government is as guilty as any of the websites and corporations out there.
It seems to me the best solution to the problem is to learn the ins and outs of privacy online and use that knowledge and programs to detect unwanted spyware, or hire someone you trust to keep your system secure.
I guess you'd never guess I don't believe in reliance on government.

Posted by: meand2 | December 1, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Enable third-party anonymous services, such as Scroogle and TOR.


Posted by: George-W | December 1, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

In this complex technical issue, colored by the influence of deep-pocket businesses, I have zero confidence in Congress' ability to pass a law that actually helps the average citizen.

However, I have every confidence that the law Congress does pass will be exactly what the rich corporate campaign donors want.

Posted by: vfr2dca | December 1, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

Just make 'tracking' and 'spam' illegal. Levy multi-million dollar fines against companies who buy, sell or trade email addresses, home addresses & phone numbers until all of those 'marketing' companies are out of business.

Actually prosecuting 'trackers' and 'spammers' would be good, too. None of that namby-pamby 'we take your complaint, and do nothing about it' is good enough anymore.

All of that 'Homeland Security' protection is useless if it is still so easy to get private information and harass people with their own information.

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Posted by: skdfjhskdfs | December 1, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Either they are using the term "deep packet inspection" to describe something other than what it means in the industry or they completely misunderstand what "deep packet inspection" does.

Posted by: akmzrazor | December 2, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

My only issue with opting out of ads is that many of the services I use like email depend on ads revenue to stay "free." I'm not willing to pay for a service with ads I can easily ignore yet. I'm not even sure if the FTC is powerful enough to enforce anything like this anyway. My faith are with technology and advertisers who could easily bypass this. The FTC also can't compel sites to even obey "Do Not Track" since are number of shady sites that could easily ignore it. While a policy like this is good in theory, I can't see how it could work effectively. I like privacy but I also like cookies saving my preferences on my favorite sites and checking my email for "free." Thinking about this reminds me of a poll I found this morning about "Do Not Track," I still believe that there should be some level of protection when it comes to our online personal data but I'm not sure if the government is capable of handling this problem.

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