Nine privacy groups asked the Federal Trade Commission on Oct. 31 to implement a Do Not Track list to prevent consumers from having their online activities unknowingly tracked, stored and used by marketers and advertising networks.
Based on the FTCs popular Do Not Call list, the Do Not Track list would require advertising firms that place persistent tracking technologies on consumers computers to register with the FTC all domain names of the servers involved in such activities. Developers of browser applications would be encouraged to create plug-ins allowing users to download the list onto their computers.
The groups call for the Do Not Track list comes on the eve of a two-day FTC conference on "Ehavioral Advertising: Tracking, Targeting and Technology."
"The online tracking and targeting of consumers—both in its current form and as it may develop in the future—needs to be limited so that consumers can exercise meaningful, granular preferences based on timely and contextual disclosures that are understandable on whichever devices consumers choose to use. Consumers must be free to act in their own self-interest," the groups said in a letter to the FTC.
As consumers surf the Web, they leave behind information that is currently tracked and targeted, often without their knowledge. Known as "behavioral tracking," the practice collects and compiles a record of individual consumers activities, interests and preferences over time.
Federal privacy laws do not cover the practice, although the NAI (National Advertising Initiative), a cooperative of online marketing and analytics companies, promotes a voluntary opt-out system for consumers.
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"If you look back at the Do Not Call list, it was at one time managed by industry. But it didnt gain widespread acceptance until the FTC took it over," Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said at an Oct. 31 conference call.
"The industry has had seven years to prove they can manage online opt-outs. It is time to move toward something structured like the Do Not Call list to address the problems we are seeing, and have now seen for seven years."
Dixon called the NAIs opt-out regime a failure, noting, "We have e-mail that asks us why we have to have a cookie to get rid of cookies. Its counterintuitive."
The Do Not Track List would still allow companies to place ads, but it would allow consumers to block servers on the list from tracking their online activities. Consumers who sign up for the Do Not Track list would still receive advertising from servers and other technologies that do not employ persistent identifiers.
The privacy groups also want the FTC to adopt an updated definition of "personally identifiable information" and force companies engaged in behavioral tracking to provide consumers with access to the personally identifiable information collected about them. In addition, they are seeking independent audits of behavioral tracking firms to ensure adherence to privacy standards.
"Online opt-outs should be as well-known and as easy as the Do Not Call list," said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America.
The nine privacy groups include the Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Activism, Public Information Research, Privacy Journal, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and World Privacy Forum.
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