F.T.C. Backs Plan to Honor Privacy of Online Users

In an article dated December 1, 2010, Edward Wyatt and Tanzina Vega of The New York Times report that the Federal Trade Commission, the nation's top consumer protection agency, is advocating a "do not track" plan for online consumers.  

According to the article, the FTC feels that the status quo — self-regulatory practices — have failed to protect the privacy needs of the consumer.  The FTC's proposed solution, "a broad framework for commercial use of Web consumer data," includes using a universal 'do not track' mechanism "that would essentially give consumers the type of control they gained over marketers with the national 'do not call' registry."

"'Our main concern is the sites and services that are connecting the dots between different times and places that a consumer is online and building a profile of what a consumer is doing.'"  

According to the article, "[m]any of the problems the [FTC] is trying to tackle involve third parties (a/k/a "data brokers") that use technology to surreptitiously follow a user around the Web, collecting data and then selling it, usually without the user's knowledge."

The opposition is staying its hand, for the moment.  Yet with billions of dollars at stake, online advertising companies and technology giants like Google and Microsoft, which track and collect data from online consumers in order to provide more focused advertisements, are not expected to approve the proposal in all respects.  Mike Zaneis, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, said the online advertising industry "would suffer 'significant economic harm' if the government controlled the do-not-track mechanism and there was 'a high participation rate similar to that of do not call.'"  

"'If your goal is to have a red flashing icon that says, "Click here to opt out of targeting," and to incentivize people to opt out, then we don't share that goal.'"

The FTC's proposal also calls for Internet browser-manufacturers, such as Microsoft, Google and Apple to "adopt simpler, more transparent and streamlined ways of presenting consumers with their options rather than the 'long, incomprehensible privacy policies that consumers typically do not read, let alone understand.'"  Data brokers will be required to provide consumers with "reasonable access" to any data collected about them upon request.

Today (Thursday, December 2, 2010), the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing to examine the feasibility of a simple method of opting out of online tracking.



The full article can be found above, or here.  

The FTC's report and proposal can be found above, or here


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