Friday, February 11, 2011

Landmark 'Do Not Track Me' Bill to Block Unwanted Spying on the Internet, Says Consumer Watchdog

/PRNewswire/ -- "Do Not Track Me" legislation introduced in Congress today by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-CA, will let consumers block unwanted tracking of their information online, said the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog at a press conference today with the bill author and consumer and privacy advocates.

The bill authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to enact and enforce regulations that would give consumers a right to block companies from tracking their activities as they use the Internet. The concept is analogous to the popular "Do Not Call" list that prevents advertisers from calling consumers who do not wish to be disturbed by telemarketing.

"Consumers should have the right to choose if their private information – from shoe size, to health concerns, to religious beliefs – is collected, analyzed and profiled by companies tracking activities online. Do Not Track is the simple way for consumers to say 'no thanks' to being monitored while they surf the web," said Carmen Balber, Washington director for Consumer Watchdog.

Rep. Speier's bill is the first in Congress to explicitly provide for a Do Not Track mechanism.

"Right now much of the online advertising market is based on unauthorized spying on consumers," said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Inside Google Project. "A Do Not Track mechanism would give consumers better control of their information and help restore their confidence in the Internet. That's a win-win for consumers and business. What kind of lasting business can be built on snooping on your customers?"

A poll by Consumer Watchdog last summer found that 80% of Americans support a Do Not Track option. A USA Today/Gallup poll released this week found that most Americans are worried about their privacy and security when they use Facebook and Google.

Read Consumer Watchdog's poll here: http://insidegoogle.com/2010/07/consumer-watchdog-poll-finds-concern-about-googles-wi-spy-snooping/

Read the USA Today poll here: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2011-02-09-privacypoll09_ST_N.htm

Consumer Watchdog noted that Do Not Track legislation does not solve all online privacy issues, but must be an option for consumers to have a fundamental right to privacy online.

Online privacy is one of the few issues that appears to have bipartisan backing in Congress, said Consumer Watchdog, and urged members to approve Do Not Track legislation this year.

Interest in Do Not Track legislation increased after the FTC issued a report in December backing the concept. David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection testified to Congress that a Do Not Track mechanism was both feasible and enforceable. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz recently wrote:

"We also believe, as do most American businesses, that no company loses by respecting the wishes of its customers. Do Not Track will allow the Internet to continue to thrive while protecting our basic right to privacy when we travel in cyberspace."

Other legislators are working on privacy legislation. In the House Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Il., introduced a general online privacy bill Thursday and Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fl., is expected to offer legislation soon. In the Senate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Ma., is working on a bill, while Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ar. has been considering offering Do Not Track legislation.

Comments on the FTC's report on privacy, "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers," are due next Friday, Feb. 18.

Consumer Watchdog has been working to protect consumers' online privacy rights and educate them about the issues through its Inside Google Project. The goal has been to convince Google of the social and economic importance of giving consumers control over their online lives. By persuading Google, the Internet's leading company, to adopt adequate guarantees, its policies could become the gold standard for privacy for the industry, potentially improving the performance of the entire online sector.

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