Privacy groups and consumer rights advocates have enthusiastically endorsed the Do Not Track bill introduced by U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller.
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-W.
Va.) introduced an online "do not track" privacy bill that would give consumers
the ability to block Internet companies from tracking their online activity.
The proposed law already has the endorsement of several major consumer advocacy
and privacy groups.
Not Track Online Act of 2011
is critical for consumers because recent data
breaches have made it clear that companies have too much freedom to collect
user data on the Internet, Rockefeller said in his May 6 statement.
Rockefeller, the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation
Committee, introduced the proposed bill to the United States Senate on May 9.
The Consumers Union, the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Action, the Center for Digital
Democracy and the American Civil Liberties Union all spoke in favor of the bill
during a May 9 conference call. The bill offered "crucial civil liberties
protection for the 21st century," Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at
the ACLU, said on the call.
"This legislation would
give Americans the right and the right tools to browse the Internet without
their every click being tracked," Consumer Protection Director Susan Grant
The bill, if passed, would
force companies to respect a consumer's decision to opt out of data collection.
It supports a mandatory browser-based "Do
Not Track" mechanism
that would allow users to unilaterally opt out of
online data collection. The framework would allow the Federal
to define the rules within a year of the bill being signed
Rockefeller called the
proposed mechanism a "simple, straightforward way" for people to communicate
their preferences to companies because they shouldn't have to opt out of every
instance of targeted marketing online.
"If consumers don't
have the ability to opt out, the result is going to be a detailed portrait of
our online activities, and that portrait will be outside our control,"
Many Web companies and
marketing professionals have argued that a blanket opt-out would impede
innovation and their ability to individually tailor services for their
customers. The industry is "policing itself," and the government
shouldn't try to dictate how to handle consumer preferences, Steve Minichini,
president of interactive at media agency TargetCast told eWEEK. A government-enforced
was "unnecessary" and would be "too restrictive." The best way
was to let the "money do the talking," since if a company decided to ignore Do
Not Track requests, then advertising deals would dry up because of the
company's bad reputation, Minichini said.
Minichini noted that Google,
and Microsoft have all implemented some kind of a Do Not Track option in the
latest versions of their Web browsers. The industry moves came shortly after a
December FTC report called on the industry to implement the mechanism.
While it was heartening to
see the industry coming out with its own solutions, there was no requirement or
enforcing companies from complying with user preferences, said Ioana Rusu,
regulatory counsel for Consumers Union. Rusu claimed that giving the agency and
states' attorneys general the authority to impose civil penalties against the
companies that violate the rules was very important.
"This bill will put
regulatory support behind these industry initiatives and make sure that online
providers listen to the many consumers who want to clearly say -no' to online
tracking," said Rusu.
The Rockefeller bill
"complements" the online privacy bill introduced by U.S. Sens. John Kerry (D.-Mass.)
and John McCain (R.-Ariz.) in April, Rusu said. The Kerry-McCain
would require companies to inform users up-front what data was being
collected and to provide a clear way to opt out of the collection. Consumer
groups and privacy advocates criticized the fact that the Kerry-McCain bill did
not explicitly address "do not track" and gave the Commerce
too much power over regulating consumer online privacy.
The Rockefeller bill is
expected to be discussed as an amendment to the Kerry-McCain bill, according to
Hill, a Congressional newspaper
Rockefeller included mobile
phones in the bill and the provisions would apply to mobile phone network
operators as well as Websites and online advertising networks. The mobile phone
provisions are important in light of recent reports that Apple and Google are
tracking user locations using the user's smartphone, according to Jamie Court,
president of Consumer Watchdog.
"This is going to cover
iPhone users, Android users, who shouldn't have to worry about being spied on
by their smartphones," Court said.
In the House, Joe Barton (R-Texas)
and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) May 6 released a draft of a separate "Do Not
Track" bill aimed at protecting children online. That Do Not Track Kids
Act of 2011 would require online companies to obtain parental consent before
collecting children's personal information and prohibit them from using minors'
data for targeted marketing. It also would limit data collection using geo-location
from mobile devices and has provisions for an "Eraser Button" for users to
delete publicly available personal data "when technologically feasible."