Consumer advocates concerned about what they see as the erosion of Web surfers' online privacy urged Congress on Sept. 1 to crack down on behavioral targeting and asked the Federal Trade Commission to set up a registry to let users opt out of data collection.
Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft employ behavioral targeting, in which cookies collect information on users' Web browsing habits, to better tailor online ad campaigns for Web-surfing consumers. While potentially lucrative for businesses that practice it, the practice doesn't sit well with consumer and privacy advocates, which are concerned about companies collecting and using consumer data without governance.
10 nonprofit groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy, World Privacy Forum and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, asked Congress to institute several provisions for consumer privacy, such as that Websites and ad networks not collect and use behavioral data after 24 hours without "affirmative consent" from Web users and that behavioral data not be retained for more than three months.
The group also requested that sensitive data, such as health information, not be collected for tracking and that no behavioral data be collected from children and adolescents under 18. The parties are also asking that it be made clear that behavioral data must not be used to discriminate against a person.
The coalition also asked that the FTC set up a Behavioral Tracker Registry, similar to the FTC's Do Not Call list preventing telemarketers from calling those on the list. The new registry would allow Web users to sign up at a Website to be removed from all data collection.
The coalition sent letters outlining their concerns and recommendations for consumer information privacy legislation to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its commerce and communications subcommittees, and held a press conference call with media Sept. 1 to discuss its concerns.
The coalition's conditions and press conference call constituted a preemptive strike; Congressman Rick Boucher has said the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet will consider drafting legislation on consumer privacy in the online marketplace in fall 2009.