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Privacy groups support new do-not-track bill

Grant Gross, IDG News Service | May 9, 2011
Privacy and civil liberties groups support a new online do-not-track bill.

Several privacy and civil rights groups voiced support for an online do-not-track bill introduced in the U.S. Senate on Monday, saying the legislation would give Web users control over their personal data.

The bill introduced by Sen. John "Jay" Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) would create a national do-not-track mechanism, a "crucial civil liberties protection for the 21st century," said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU is concerned that data from online tracking, typically used to deliver ads targeted at a Web user's interests, is being married with offline databases and shared with law enforcement and other government agencies, Calabrese said during a press conference. Web users should have a "practical anonymity" to comment, read provocative material, and associate with groups outside of the mainstream, he said.

"The current economic model creates an incentive for tracking," Calabrese added. "If consumers don't have the ability to opt out, the result is going to be a detailed portrait of our online activities, and that portrait will be outside our control."

Rockefeller's bill, called the Do-Not-Track Online Act, would require online companies to honor consumer requests to opt out of tracking. The bill would allow the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to take enforcement action against companies that fail to honor the do-not-track requests.

After an Internet user opts out of online tracking, Web-based companies could collect only the information needed for the website or online service to function. The legislation would require online companies to destroy or anonymize personal information after it's no longer needed.

"Recent reports of privacy invasions have made it imperative that we do more to put consumers in the driver's seat when it comes to their personal information," Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said in a statement. "I believe consumers have a right to decide whether their information can be collected and used online."

The bill would apply to mobile phone network operators as well websites and online advertising networks. The mobile phone provisions are important after recent reports that Apple and Google are tracking users of their smartphone operating systems, said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog.

Rockefeller has "made it very clear that do-not-track online is an idea whose time has come," Court said. "This is going to cover iPhone users, Android users, who shouldn't have to worry about being spied on by their smartphones."

 

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