FTC Backs ‘Do Not Track’ Feature In Final Privacy Report

Mon, Mar 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    New browser feature could arrive before the year’s end.

    The Federal Trade Commission today issued its final report for how companies need to handle consumer privacy, including the much-discussed ‘Do Not Track’ feature that was brought up after the White House introduced the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights earlier this year. In the report, the FTC asserts that the “industry has made significant progress in implementing Do Not Track” but acknowledges that the full extent of the goal has yet to be realized so the Commission “will work with these groups to complete implementation of an easy-to-use, persistent, and effective Do Not Track system.”

    Following the report’s release, Consumer Watchdog, an organization whose name leaves little to imagination as to its purpose, praised the FTC for supporting the ‘Do Not Track’ mechanism that will hopefully return control of data collection to the people of the internet. Consumer Watchdog has been at this fight for a couple of years, working to get consumer privacy reform at the top of the government’s to-do list. “Those efforts are paying off,” said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “The FTC’s support of Do Not Track means that consumers should have a meaningful way to control the tracking of their online activities by the end of the year.”

    In fact, the FTC says that if companies aren’t able to launch a ‘Do Not Track’ mechanism by the end of the year, “lawmakers should force those companies” to develop an anti-tracking option for consumers.

    Much of the report’s focus remained on the mobile aspect of search and privacy, and timely that is, too, given some mobile privacy breaches lately. The report “calls on companies providing mobile services to work toward improved privacy protections, including the development of short, meaningful disclosures.” The FTC is actually going so far to further industry self-regulation in this respect that it’s offering a workshop in May that will address mobile privacy issues.

    Electronista highlighted another recommendation from the report where so-called “targeted” laws would ensure that consumers have access to the information that data brokers are holding about them. Ideally, the FTC would have “a central database where these brokers could explain how they get data and what options users have.”

    In a dissenting statement that accompanied the FTC report, Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch objected to the vague language used within the report. “The report is rooted in its insistence that the ‘unfair’ prong, rather than the ‘deceptive’ prong,” Rosch wrote. “Unfairness” is an elastic and elusive concept.” In describing how the FTC’s report could possibly be interpreted to include most information collection practices, Rosch went so far as to say policies such a central database “would install ‘Big Brother’ as the watchdog over these practices not only in the online world but in the offline world.”

    So as the ‘Do Not Track’ mechanism is introduced to the public, do you see yourself using it much? Do you think it’ll even work? Feel free to contribute to the discussion in the comments section.

    The full FTC report can be found at the link below, courtesy of Electronista.
    FTC Privacy Recommendations

    Drew Bowling is a staff writer for WebProNews. He never met an all-you-can-eat buffet he didn’t like. Twitter: @bentfortherent Google: +Drew Bowling

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