FTC recommends 'Do Not Track' program in Internet privacy report
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. "
| December 1, 2010; 11:09 AM ET
Categories: FTC, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Privacy
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