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Do-Not-Track Legislation Reintroduced Into US Senate

by Glen Shapiro,, New York

06 March 2013

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, John D. Rockefeller IV (D – West Virginia), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D - Connecticut) have introduced the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2013 to give United States consumers the ability to control their personal information and allow them to prevent online companies from collecting and using that information for profit.

“Online companies are collecting massive amounts of information, often without consumers’ knowledge or consent,” said Rockefeller. “Consumers should be empowered to make their own decision about whether their information can be tracked and used online.”

Rockefeller introduced a similar bill into the Senate in May 2011, but was persuaded not to push for its approval at that time because the internet industry then promised to set up its voluntary “do-not-track” mechanism. However, negotiations on the voluntary system broke down some time ago, despite the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Commerce, and the FTC has itself been calling on Congress to consider enacting general privacy legislation.

“Industry stood at the White House and made a public pledge to honor do-not-track requests, but has since failed to live up to that commitment,” added Rockefeller. “My bill gives consumers the opportunity to simply say ‘no thank you’ to anyone and everyone collecting their online information. Period.”

The proposed bill would preserve the ability of online companies to conduct their business and continue to deliver content and services to consumers, but it would also create a universal legal obligation for all online companies to honor consumer choice when consumers do not want anyone to collect information about their online activities.

In addition, it would allow the FTC to pursue enforcement action against any company that does not honor this request by consumers; and, if consumers ask not to be tracked, allow companies to collect only the information that is necessary for the website or online service to function and be effective. It would place a legal obligation on the online company to destroy or anonymize the information once it is no longer needed.

However, others, such as the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), have responded to Rockefeller’s reintroduction of the do-not-track legislation, calling it detrimental policy that undermines the economic foundation of the internet and makes consumers worse off.

The ITIF pointed out that targeted advertising uses information about internet users to deliver to them more relevant ads based on their browsing history or other data. In exchange for viewing online ads, users get access to a wide range of free content (for example, news, music, movies and games), free services (such as email, storage and personal productivity tools) and free mobile apps.

"The success of the internet is rooted in the availability of access to free, ad-supported online content and services. Given the importance of the internet to the US economy it is unfortunate to see legislation introduced that will discourage growth in this important sector," said Daniel Castro, a senior analyst with ITIF. "Instead of demonizing legitimate online advertising practices, Congress should focus on meaningful efforts to protect user privacy that do not undermine the economic system that has supported decades of innovation on the internet."

TAGS: compliance | business | commerce | law | enforcement | internet | e-commerce | legislation | United States | services

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