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Internet privacy: Lawmakers offer new proposals allowing consumers to stop online tracking

May 6, 2011 |  1:24 pm

Rockefeller

The push for new laws to protect online privacy -- particularly the ability of websites to track people's movements across the Internet -- gained momentum Friday as key lawmakers said they would propose new legislation.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.) said he would introduce a bill creating a legal obligation for online companies to honor consumer requests not to track their online activities. And Reps. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) circulated draft legislation to protect the privacy of children online.

"For millions of kids today, the Internet is their new 21st century playground -– they learn, play and connect with others every day," said Markey, who along with Barton chairs the Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus. "But kids growing up in this online environment also need protection from the dangers that can lurk in cyberspace. Unfortunately, 'Where the Wild Things Are' can apply to the 21st century Internet and the beloved children's book."

Markey and Barton want to update the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. Their proposed Do Not Track Kids Act would require online companies to get parental consent to collect personal information from children younger than 13. Online companies would be prohibited from using personal information from children and teenagers for targeted advertisements and other marketing.

The bill would create a "Digital Marketing Bill of Rights for Teens" to limit the collection of personal information, including geo-location data from mobile devices. And online companies would have to create an "eraser button" to permit parents or children to erase personal information.

Rockefeller's legislation would apply to all consumers, trying to build off the popularity of the "do not call" list for telemarketers. Companies would have to honor "do not track" requests.

"Consumers have a right to know when and how their personal and sensitive information is being used online -- and most importantly, to be able to say 'no thanks' when companies seek to gather that information without their approval," Rockefeller said. "This bill will offer a simple, straightforward way for people to stop companies from tracking their every move on the Internet."

His bill follows legislation introduced in February by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) that would give the Federal Trade Commission the power to create regulations forcing online marketers to respect consumer requests not to be tracked. Similar legislation is moving through the California Senate that would give the state attorney general authority to enforce do-not-track requests.

Online privacy has become a hot issue in Washington after the FTC called for a "do not track" option for consumers as part of an online privacy report in December. And some Web browsers, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Mozilla's Firefox, recently have added a "do not track" feature, although there is no legal requirement that online companies honor it. 

The Obama administration has called for online privacy legislation. And Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced a sweeping bill last month. Their proposed Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights would help prevent the misuse of sensitive consumer information, but would stop short of the "do not track" provision sought by privacy advocates.

The bills announced Friday give new impetus to allowing consumers to request they not be tracked, said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog.

"Demand for 'do not track' protection is swelling, and that makes sense," he said. "This is an idea whose time has come, and I believe people will finally get the protection they are demanding."

RELATED:

Landmark online privacy legislation is introduced in Senate

"Do Not Track Me Online" privacy bill introduced by California Rep. Jackie Speier

Federal regulators call for Do Not Track option for consumers in online privacy report

-- Jim Puzzanghera

Photo: Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). Credit: Getty Images

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