Internet Law

Feds Propose 'Do Not Track' List to Protect Web-Surfers' Privacy

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Updated: Amidst myriad recent reports of the extent to which those who surf the Internet are being profiled for advertisers’ benefit, the Federal Trade Commission is planning to create a “do not track” function akin to the “do not call” registry.

Web-surfers who wish to protect their privacy by preventing their online browsing history from being collected could opt in, much as those who wish to avoid telephone advertising can sign up now on the “do not call” list, reports a Chicago Tribune Breaking Business post.

The proposal is part of a report released today by the FTC, Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change (PDF), the Los Angeles Times explains.

“Consumers live in a world where information about their purchasing behavior, online browsing habits, and other online and offline activity is collected, analyzed, combined, used, and shared, often instantaneously and invisibly,” says the FTC in a press release accompanying the report.

Although the FTC is proposing the concept, it would be up to Congress, rather than the FTC, to mandate a “do not track” function, says David Vladeck. He directs the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the agency.

And Congress is considering doing so: A hearing is tentatively scheduled tomorrow on a possible “do not track” provision included in a proposed Internet privacy law, reports the Washington Post’s Post Tech blog. The hearing will focus on aspects of a bill introduced by Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who chairs the House commerce, trade, and consumer protection subcommittee that plans to hold the hearing.

It is not clear exactly how the proposed “do not track” function would operate, if it is finalized: Both the Tribune and LA Times articles say it would be equivalent to the current “do not call” list. However, the FTC release says it might simply be a browser function.

Meanwhile, apparently seeing the handwriting on the wall, some Web browser creators, including the makers of Firefox, are offering enhanced privacy options for Internet users, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Related coverage: “Beyond Big Brother: Some Web Hosts Are Watching Your Every Keystroke” “Many Wince at Above the Law Blogger’s Chilling Account of Online ‘Stalk’”

Last updated at 6:21 p.m. to clarify that the manner in which the “do not track” function would operate isn’t yet known.

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