Wading deeper into the battle for online privacy, the Federal Trade Commission on Monday proposed federal legislation to govern the way "data brokers" compile dossiers on consumer spending habits.
But the final version of the commission's report on protecting privacy, issued Monday, also commends those Internet-related companies that have taken steps to create a "do not track" mechanism, similar to the federal "Do Not Call" registry that keeps telemarketers from contacting consumers who find their calls annoying and sign up to be placed off limits.
Tool of the Trade
The report notes that browser vendors have developed tools to prevent tracking, while a group called the Digital Advertising Alliance developed an icon-based tool and is committed to honoring the browser tools. It also recognized that the World Wide Web Consortium "made substantial progress in creating an international standard for Do Not Track." But the FTC wants a more permanent, easily available system.
""If companies adopt our final recommendations for best practices -- and many of them already have -- they will be able to innovate and deliver creative new services that consumers can enjoy without sacrificing their privacy," said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC in a statement. "We are confident that consumers will have an easy to use and effective Do Not Track option by the end of the year because companies are moving forward expeditiously to make it happen, and because lawmakers will want to enact legislation if they don't."
Based on feedback, the report expands on a preliminary December 2010 report, calling on companies that collect and/or dispense consumers' information to build in "protections at every stage in developing their products," including reasonable security, limited collection and retention and reasonable procedures to ensure the data is accurate.
The updated report also calls for consumers to have more control over what information is shared and with whom, including the use of "a Do-Not-Track mechanism that would provide a simple, easy way for consumers to control the tracking of their online activities."
The FTC also wants to see greater transparency in terms of both disclosing how data is collected and allowing consumers to have access to the data being collected.
Opting Out Small Businesses
The report changes the classification of the body of companies it wants the new regulation to cover in order to avoid harming small business, limiting the scope to " commercial entities that collect or use consumer data that can be reasonably linked to a specific consumer, computer, or other device, unless the entity collects only nonsensitive data from fewer than 5,000 consumers per year and does not share the data with third parties."
In the recent past the FTC has taken on Facebook for what it called misleading privacy policies, and Google for opting Gmail users into a social network, Google Buzz, without asking. Members of Congress also want the agency to look into Google's use of a code that is capable of overriding the private browser setting of Apple's Safari Web browser.
The report, passed on a 3-1 vote by FTC commissioners, does not carry the force of law. So how likely is it that strong privacy legislation will be passed? Not very, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
"Even if the FTC pushes new regulations and gets the White House and Commerce [Department] involved -- which seems likely, given the profile of the subject among consumer rights and privacy-minded groups -- this is the sort of issue that would likely be buried in a House committee by a well-placed industry toady or two," King said, that is, "unless Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who has a complementary proposal in the works, presses the issue."
Vickie R. Lewis:
Posted: 2014-08-14 @ 6:57am PT
Privacy is important to congress too. They don't realize it until their privacy is invaded. Only then do they start yelling. This issue affects them just as it does the public.
Posted: 2012-09-13 @ 1:15pm PT
It would be less stressful worrying whether your online shopping and online bill pay, and banking are secured and had privacy. It feels like I am being watched at all times while using the internet. It would be great if this happened. You got my vote.
James D, Adams::
Posted: 2012-06-05 @ 8:44pm PT
I would love to see this happen in the very near future. Like yesterday, in fact. You can count on my vote. It sounds so nice, I might vote twice.
Posted: 2012-06-03 @ 6:44pm PT
I think this is a great idea, and it gets my vote.