Privacy Groups Press US Congress For Online Safeguards

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — A coalition of consumer advocate and privacy groups on Tuesday urged the US
    Congress to protect the public from intrusive and often secretive tracking of their online activities and identity.

    "Today, information from consumers is collected, compiled, and sold secretly, all done without reasonable safeguards," they warned in a letter to key lawmakers days before the end of the month-long August congressional break.

    The groups sounded the alarm over "behavioral marketing," in which companies secretly monitor Internet user activity in order to target consumers for focused advertising.

    "Tracking people’s every move online is an invasion of privacy. Online behavioral tracking is even more distressing when consumers aren’t aware who is tracking them, that it’s happening, or how the information will be used," the coalition said in a statement.

    "Often consumers are not asked for their consent and have no meaningful control over the collection and use of their information, often by third parties with which they have no relationships," they said.

    The coalition includes the Center for Digital Democracy; Consumer Federation of America; Consumers Union; Consumer Watchdog; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Privacy Lives; Privacy Rights Clearinghouse; Privacy Times; US Public Interest Research Group; and World Privacy Forum.

    Lawmakers should prohibit the collection of sensitive information — notably on issues of health, finances, race, sexual orientation, political activity, and other personal matters — even if the collected data cannot be linked to their names or addresses, the groups said.

    Data should be collected "by lawful and fair means and, where appropriate, with the knowledge or consent of the individual," and no such data from minors under the age of 18 should be collected or used, they said.

    And consumers should always be able to obtain their personal or behavioral data held by a business engaged in tracking or targeting, they said.

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