Federal regulators call for Do Not Track option for consumers as part of a long-awaited online privacy report
The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday backed the creation of a Do Not Track option -- similar to the popular Do Not Call registry for people who want to avoid telemarketers -- to allow consumers to protect their privacy as they use the Web.
The recommendation, which would require congressional action, comes in a lengthy and long-awaited draft report entitled "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change." The report comes as lawmakers and regulators are focusing increased attention on privacy amid the rapid growth of social networks, mobile Web surfing and other online activity.
Many websites collect data from people, including past searches and sites visited, and share that data with advertisers who use it to target online pitches. Those pitches are known as behavioral advertising because they are tailored to a person's behavior.
"Consumers live in a world where information about their purchasing behavior, online browsing habits, and other online and offline activity is collected, analyzed, combined, used, and shared, often instantaneously and invisibly,'' the FTC said.
The agency said that "long, incomprehensible privacy policies that consumers typically don't read, let alone understand" are not the answer.
Neither are voluntary industry efforts, such as the tool offered by the Network Advertising Initiative to allow consumers to opt out of behavioral advertising offered by its members, which include Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. Those efforts have "fallen short," the FTC said.
Consumers need to be able to easily choose if they want to prevent websites from collecting information about them, the FTC said.
"One way to facilitate consumer choice is to provide it in a uniform and comprehensive
way.... The most practical method of providing such universal choice
would likely involve the placement of a persistent setting, similar to a cookie, on the consumer’s browser signaling the consumer’s choices about being tracked and receiving targeted ads. Commission staff supports this approach, sometimes referred to as 'Do Not Track.' "
The FTC's report comes as the Commerce Department is also preparing a report about online privacy, expected to be released later this month. Protecting online privacy has bipartisan appeal, and a House subcommittee will hold a hearing Thursday looking at whether Congress should require a Do Not Track option for consumers.
-- Jim Puzzanghera