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Consumer groups criticize congressional bill on online consumer privacy

Consumer watchdog groups say a draft congressional bill falls short of its proclaimed intention of  protecting the privacy of consumers using the Internet.

During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, the groups said they would push for changes to the bill.

The bill's sponsors, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), on Tuesday unveiled their online privacy proposal, which would regulate how marketers in the $25- billion online advertising industry collect, use and share information about consumers. Boucher and Stearns said the public would have two months to comment on the bill.

Watchdogs such as the Center for Digital Democracy say the bill draws attention to the gaping need for privacy rules but does very little to  protect consumers. They argue that marketers should have to get consumers’ explicit consent before tracking and targeting them. The industry, which also took issue with the legislation, contends that responsible data collection benefits marketers and consumers alike.

The bill would require companies to disclose when they collect information from consumers and use it to target ads. Consumers could opt out of targeted advertisements. Marketers would have to get consumers' explicit consent before collecting sensitive information such as race or sexual orientation. The Federal Trade Commission would be charged with enforcing the rules.

“Consumer privacy groups are extremely disappointed that this bill maintains the status quo,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

-- Jessica Guynn

 
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