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Consumer Watchdog Calls On FTC To Enact Do Not Track, Says Force Of Law Needed

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Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm

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Consumer Watchdog Calls On FTC To Enact Do Not Track, Says Force Of Law Needed

WASHINGTON, DC — Consumer Watchdog today called on the Federal Trade Commission to create a “Do Not Track Me” mechanism to protect consumers’ online privacy and added that such a mechanism must have the force of law behind it.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group made the call in comments filed on The Federal Trade Commission’s recent report “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers.”

“One substantial tool that will empower consumers and allow the Internet to thrive while protecting consumers’ basic right to privacy when they travel in cyberspace is a Do Not Track Mechanism. Such a mechanism also must have the force of law behind it,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Online Privacy director.

As the FTC report notes, Industry self-regulation has failed to provide adequate consumer privacy protection.

“Instead of waiting for industry yet again to demonstrate the insufficiency of self-regulation, the Commission should recommend Congress approve legislation requiring a Do Not Track mechanism, and endorse HR 654, the ‘Do Not Track Me Online Act,” Consumer Watchdog said. The bill was introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-CA, last week.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s comments to the FTC here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ftc_comments021811.pdf

Consumer Watchdog said the FTC report proposes a solid framework with principles drawn from Fair Information Practices (FIPs) that will go far to ensure that consumers are protected.

“That framework must be enacted by regulation through a rulemaking process,” Consumer Watchdog said.

Exactly what DNT technology would be used should be left to the browser manufacturers, although so far Consumer Watchdog favors the header system that will be adopted by Mozilla’s Firefox.

Under this system there would need to be regulations mandating the legal responsibilities of Websites that receive a Do Not Track message. Under this system the definition of “tracking” is critical.  Consumer Watchdog believes this is the appropriate definition:

Tracking is the collection of data about Internet activities of a particular user, computer, or device (including mobile phones), over time and across a Website or Websites, for any purpose other than site maintenance and improvement, fraud prevention or legal compliance.”

In other words, tracking includes all collection of data by Websites and applications whether they are first or third party.  The line between the two is increasingly blurred.  While there may be some allowable first-party uses, they must be defined as exemptions through a rulemaking process. Simply put, tracking is tracking and consumers must have the right to opt out of it. Consumer Watchdog believes many, if not most, consumers will agree to tracking by a company with which they have a relationship, but they must have the choice.

Consumer Watchdog has been working to protect consumers’ online privacy rights and educate them about the issues through its Inside Google Project. The goal has been to convince Google of the social and economic importance of giving consumers control over their online lives. By persuading Google, the Internet’s leading company, to adopt adequate guarantees, its policies could become the gold standard for privacy for the industry, potentially improving the performance of the entire online sector.

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Consumer Watchdog, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, Ca.  Consumer Watchdog’s website is www.ConsumerWatchdog.org. Visit our new Google Privacy and Accountability Project website: http://insidegoogle.com.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 349 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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