Top regulator urges online 'do not track' law (Update)

"People shouldn't be putting things in your computer without your consent," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said
Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz, pictured in 2010, urged Congress Wednesday to enact an online privacy law that includes "do not track" mechanisms for consumers on the Internet, amid indications of a split among lawmakers.
A top US regulator urged Congress Wednesday to enact an online privacy law that includes "do not track" mechanisms for consumers on the Internet, amid indications of a split among lawmakers.

"Most consumers are entirely unaware of the vast amounts of data about them being sold and collected about them, both online and offline," Federal Trade Commission chairman Jon Leibowitz told a US Senate panel.

"People shouldn't be putting things in your computer without your consent," Leibowitz said, adding that the debate is moving to "not whether 'do not track' will exist but how it will be implemented."

Leibowitz said an FTC report calls for final implementation of a "do not track" mechanism and general privacy legislation that would cover issues such as data security, breach notification and regulation of data brokers.

The FTC chief said key industry leaders support the measures but that details need to be worked out.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, head of the Commerce Committee which held the hearing, said he hopes to bring privacy legislation up for a vote this year.

"Protecting consumer privacy is critical for all companies -- people need to trust the websites that they are visiting," Rockefeller told the hearing.

"But online companies are conflicted. They need to protect consumers' information, but they also need to be able to monetize their users' data. I am afraid that in the hyper competitive on-line marketplace the need to monetize consumers' data and profits will win out over privacy concerns."

But Republican Senator Patrick Toomey said he was skeptical about the need for new legislation.

"It's important for companies to have maximum flexibility," Toomey told the panel.

"Companies are already competing on privacy... if consumers don't trust company A they can go to company B."

He said legislation could jeopardize the benefits consumers are enjoying online from companies that profit from data collection.

"The benefits are clear. Facebook is free, Google is free... less information is likely to result in fewer free online services and an increase in paywalls.

"I have not heard a persuasive argument as to why the FTC needs additional authority," Toomey added.

The FTC report released earlier this year said consumers should have a meaningful way to control the tracking of their online activities.

Cameron Kerry, the general counsel for the Commerce Department, said the administration of President Barack Obama endorses new privacy legislation, and that the US should act before Europe and other nations.

"We do not want to let other countries set a default standard," Kerry said.

He said it is useful to pass legislation because "consumers and American businesses share a strong interest in defining and protecting privacy interests to protect consumers, provide a level playing field for businesses, and build an environment of trust that benefits innovation and the digital economy."

The hearing comes amid growing concerns about privacy policies of companies such as Facebook and Google, which glean vast amounts of information about its users online habits to be able to deliver targeted ads.

Google rolled out a new privacy policy this year allowing the firm to track users across various services to develop targeted advertising, despite sharp criticism from US and European consumer advocacy groups.

A recent study meanwhile found many users of Facebook are unaware of the privacy risks from the massive social network site or fail to take adequate precautions.

The Consumer Reports report found nearly 13 million US Facebook users do not use, or are not aware of the site's privacy controls.

In a last year deal with the FTC, Facebook promised to honor users' privacy preferences and to stop making claims about the security of personal information that are untrue.

The deal settles two-year-old accusations that Facebook -- which has some 900 million users -- had allowed advertisers access to users' personal data when users were told it was being kept private.

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(c) 2012 AFP

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User comments

May 09, 2012
Great! Now maybe I can get the bandwidth I'm paying for, instead of losing half of it to ads in my face on every page. I get so tired of paying for a super fast machine and a high speed internet connection; just to have half or more of that speed taken up by companies shoving ads in my face. I'd like the option of sending a bill to each company for the bandwidth they steal. I pay for it... I'd like to use it. As it is, these ads slow down my system. Sometimes I have to wait up to a minute and a half for the ads to load before I can read my email or a news article. I am tired of paying for the delivery of these annoying ads. I have a list of the worst offenders, and will not do business with them, ever. I'd like to see a country wide boycott of annoying advertisers. I also wish I had the skill to return the favor by dumping their ads back on their system, en mass. Maybe if THEY had to spend half an hour deleting spam every day... Nah, they'd sue me for denial of service, most like... :(

May 10, 2012
I use google Chrome and have their ads disabled, so I don't have that problem.

But I agree, it's time these practices were banned.

Google and Facebook will probably go bankrupt, or be forced to invest in legitimate business models, either way, it's probably a good thing.

Last I checked, my ISP isn't getting a "cut" from Google or Facebook, unless they own shares in one another, which they may well have now that they've gone public, but even then it wouldn't be a majority.

To be honest, I don't know how effective internet search ads are anyway. I guess other people are more easily swayed by propaganda when it comes to purchases. I almost never buy anything based on advertisements, and I mean close to never.

But, I suppose the Sheople are pretty much puppets, and buy whatever is advertised and presented, much like television infomercials, etc.

At any rate, a do not track law needs to be in place for sure.

This may actually require some mods to web browsers and scripting languages.

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