Interest Groups Jostle for Position

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-03-16 Print this article Print


Mozilla introduced a "Do Not Track" feature in Firefox 4, currently available as a Release Candidate. The browser sends special header information for every HTTP page request for users who mark the checkbox for "Tell web sites I do not want to be tracked" under Firefox's Advanced Options. Microsoft implemented a similar feature, called "Do Not Track Users Preference," in Internet Explorer 9.

Mozilla wants to get a conversation started about "Do Not Track" and how Websites and ad networks can honor user requests for privacy, Jonathan Nightingale, Mozilla's director of Firefox development, told eWEEK. The company can help facilitate the discussion, he said.

According to the Wall Street Journal, about 30 online advertising companies, including Exponential Interactive, Burst Media, Audience Science, Casale Media and Specific Media, are in talks with browser companies to add a checkbox option to turn off data collection. Another Internet marketing firm is experimenting with putting a button inside ads to notify users they're being targeted. Clicking on that button would opt the user out of dozens of companies' networks at once, according to the news article.

Six public interest groups-Consumer Watchdog, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, US PIRG and the World Privacy Forum-jointly warned that a "multi-stakeholder process" to develop rules for online privacy would be dominated by the industry. Users will not be adequately protected unless the effort is organized in a "fair and balanced" manner, the groups said.

Any meaningful privacy legislation should direct the Federal Trade Commission to create and enforce the privacy mechanism, according to Consumer Watchdog. The industry should "inform, not replace," rulemaking, the groups said.

Congress should be very wary politically defining "Do Not Track," and continue to steer clear of trying to regulate online activity, said Wayne Crews, vice president for Policy and director of Technology Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research think tank in Washington, D.C. The proposed restrictions would impede business transactions, undermine the advertising industry, stifle innovation in the mobile space and "needlessly" make customers nervous, he said.

The legislation is unnecessary because "major industry participants" are already developing their own mechanisms, said Crews.

"The right to use information acquired through voluntary transactions is no less important than the right to decide whether to disclose information in the first place," Crews said.


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel