"Do Not Track?" FTC Proposes an Opt-Out for Internet Users

By Andrew Moseman | December 2, 2010 10:25 am

computer security220“Don’t track me, bro!”

If you’ve long been a fan of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” registry, allowing people to opt out of telemarketing campaigns, the good news is that FTC has taken the first steps toward such a setup for the Internet. Jon Leibowitz, the FTC’s chairman, pitched in a report this week (pdf) the idea of implementing some kind of “do not track” option that would allow people to easily say no to having their online behavior tracked and used for purposes like behavior-based advertising. The bad news is, both legally and conceptually, is that it would be a more challenging idea to implement than “Do Not Call.”

Rather than submitting their names on a centrally maintained list, consumers would use a tool on their Web browsers to signal that they do not wish to be tracked or to receive targeted advertising. Leibowitz said Google, Microsoft and Mozilla have all experimented with do-not-track technology on their browsers. [Washington Post]

FTC, it seems, doesn’t have the authority to do this on its own, which leaves it with two options: talking the industry into enacting voluntary standards to this effect, or having Congress enact legislation to force the issue. As Leibowitz noted, some IT companies are moving in the FTC’s direction. But, he warned, the commission would like to see a little more expedience, because the current way online privacy is done is “not working adequately.”

Currently, millions of Internet users who want to opt out of behavioral tracking have to navigate their browser privacy controls, download plug-ins or opt out by clicking on an icon near an ad that is part of the industry self-regulatory program. The report recommends that companies 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.” [Washington Post]

Just imagine if the Facebook privacy policy wasn’t a maze to navigate every time the social networking behemoth changed its rules.

What about the legislation possibility? Though Congress has confirmed everyone’s long-held suspicions this week by promising general inactivity, privacy is one of the few issues about which the two parties at constant loggerheads come close to agreement:

“From my perspective, and I’m speaking for myself,” Leibowitz emphasized, “a legislative solution will surely be needed if industry doesn’t step up to the plate. Keep in mind that privacy protection is the most bipartisan of issues. It’s not just Senator Rockefeller holding hearings on privacy legislation, it’s Senator Thune (R-SD), it’s Joe Barton (R-TX), it’s Henry Waxman (D-CA). It is very bipartisan.” [Ars Technica]

Also coming this month in Internet policy: another round of sparring about net neutrality. Details of the Federal Communications Commission leader’s proposed plan are seeping out, and FCC meets Dec. 21 to vote on the plan.

Related Content:
80beats: Google Street View’s Privacy Blunder Just Keeps Getting Worse
80beats: Facebook CEO: People Don’t Really Want Privacy Nowadays, Anyway
80beats: Facebook Adds Location Feature, Subtracts Privacy (Again)
DISCOVER: Your Digital Privacy? It May Already Be an Illusion

Image: iStockphoto


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