Net Tracking- Issues and Positions

Net Tracking- Issues and Positions Compares How those in Favor and Those Opposed Side on this Important Issue

FTC backs “do not track” list for Web users

Reuters is reporting that U.S. regulators on Wednesday backed the creation of a “do not track” list that would limit the ability of advertisers to collect Internet users’ data and would protect consumers’ online privacy.

In a preliminary staff report, the Federal Trade Commission said that while companies generally manage consumer information responsibly, there are exceptions.

“Self-regulation in privacy has not worked adequately,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “A legislative solution will surely be needed if industry doesn’t step up to the plate.”

Leibowitz said he supported creation of a mechanism that allows consumers to opt out of some tracking, adding that Congress would probably need to act, which may be difficult because of legislative gridlock next year.

Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said on Wednesday that he planned to introduce legislation that would require companies to secure data and inform consumers about what data is being collected.

“Consumers should be given a simple mechanism for opting out of the process,” Kerry said in a statement.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, like Representative Joe Barton, have said, without offering details, they would focus on privacy issues.

Any legislation could be two years off, at minimum, said Amy Mushahwar, a privacy expert with Reed Smith, who predicted industry would strike a deal with the government.

If consumers gain more control over their data, the biggest losers could be companies serving third-party ads, said Mushahwar. “Those are the targets,” she said.

The FTC staff report also urged that special care be taken with information about sensitive topics such as finances, health, children or an individual’s location.

“Before any of this data is collected, used or shared, staff believes that companies should seek affirmative express consent,” the report said.

The agency’s report urged the development of ways to build privacy into the design of business practices by, for example, collecting only the data that is needed and disposing of it when it is no longer being used.

The agency also proposed that company privacy policies be simpler, clearer and shorter.

“Staff also proposes providing consumers with reasonable access to the data that companies maintain about them, particularly for companies that do not interact with consumers directly, such as data brokers,” the report said.

“In addition, all entities must provide robust notice and obtain affirmative consent for material, retroactive changes to data policies.”

The report comes as the FTC is under pressure to contain the growing strength and savvy of companies collecting Internet users’ personal data and selling it to advertisers.

A recent report by a privacy group found, for example, that some websites that present themselves as a way for ill people to connect with other people with the same ailments were actually created by companies to collect and sell data on those people to market medicines to them.

A final version of the FTC report will be released next year after taking into account comments from interested parties.

Do-not-track proposal gets chilly GOP response

According to MarketWatch Today, U.S. House Republicans called into question a universal, federally sponsored do-not-track tool for the Internet saying in a hearing Thursday that it would curb profits for the Internet advertising industry.

In a report released Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission endorsed the idea of a do-not-track system to protect consumer privacy on the Web, where advertising companies store user data in an effort to display ads targeted at their interests. Bill would outlaw web tracking of kids

Legislation is set to be introduced early next year by Rep. Edward Markey that would prohibit online companies from tracking children on the Internet without parental consent. Steve Stecklow discusses.

“I assume most customers would be interested in seeing advertising that was relevant to them,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican, the ranking member of the subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. “We need to be mindful not to enact legislation that would hurt a recovering economy.”

The trade commission stopped short of calling for legislation in its report but did say that the industry’s attempts at self-regulation owing to privacy concerns had developed too slowly.

Such a tool “would allow consumers to exercise choices about online tracking in a simple, persistent and universal way,” said David Vladeck, head of the commission’s consumer protection bureau.

But a robust do-not-track option could hobble advertising, the Internet’s main revenue stream and one of the few growing sectors of a sluggish economy.

Several Democratic representatives have said they would support some form of legislation to enforce do-not-track provisions on the Internet.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, proposed legislation Wednesday that would seek to stop companies from tracking the online browsing habits of children. He said that some sites targeted at children employ more tracking software than their adult-focused counterparts.

It is unclear how such legislation would distinguish Internet use by children from that of their parents.

Daniel Weitzner, a telecommunications policy analyst at the Department of Commerce, noted that online transactions amounted to $3.7 trillion annually.

A growing percentage of that Internet economy is dedicated to tracking and storing information about consumers catalogued by their personal Internet protocol address, Weitzner said.

“Data collection restrictions are blunt instruments,” he said, in response to a question whether the government should allow tracking of information but not the storage and sale of it.

The do-not-track proposal follow the loose principles of do-not-call registries created in the past to thwart telemarketers, but the Internet presents a much different challenge to regulators.

The FTC report suggests that placing universal do-not-track preferences within browsers would be a logical step. The commission’s Vladeck said creating a centralized list was not an option being considered.

The major browsers, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Mozilla Firefox, all incorporate some form of anonymity options through preferences or third-party plug-ins.

The companies behind the browsers reacted coolly to the proposal, touting the privacy functions already in place and saying they would study the proposal further.

Joan Gilman, a media sales executive at Time Warner Cable, said a do-not-track list would likely dampen the healthiest revenue stream the Internet has available.

“It may also deter the provision of free online advertiser-supported content and inhibit innovation,” Gilman said according to the report.

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