One day after the Federal Trade Commission endorsed a "do-not-track" mechanism to allow consumers to opt out of being tracked on the Web, the idea got a mixed reaction Thursday during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on the issue.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection held a hearing on do-not-track after the FTC endorsed the idea in a staff report it released Wednesday on ways to improve consumer privacy online.
Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and some other Republicans voiced concern with the idea, questioning the technical feasibility and its impact on advertising-supported content on the Internet. Noting the comparison to the federal Do-Not-Call registry, which allows consumers to sign up with the FTC to opt out of receiving most telemarketing calls, Whitfield said he did not think that model could be applied to the Internet.
In response to this concern, FTC Consumer Protection Bureau Director David Vladeck said the commission is not proposing a registry similar to Do-Not-Call or calling for the government to manage a centralized system. Instead, the agency has proposed a browser-based solution that would send a signal to those firms that track consumers.
Responding to a question from Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., on the impact do-not-track might have on online ad revenue, Daniel Weitzner, associate administrator for the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said it would depend on what kind of do-not-track mechanism is implemented. He added, however, that as more companies have implemented some kind of opt out and enhanced notice, there has not been a big reduction in ad revenue as a result.
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Senior Analyst Daniel Castro also voiced other concerns about do not track including that it would result in consumers receiving more unwanted advertising such as pop-up ads that are not targeted to a user's interests. He also argued in his written testimony that do not track would be difficult to implement and enforce.
Vladeck, however, argued that the commission examined both of those claims. He noted that FTC technologists have determined that it is feasible to implement. On enforcing such a system, Vladeck said trackers leave digital footprints that could be traced back to the company that did the tracking.
Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill, is weighing whether to include a do-not-track proposal in privacy legislation he plans to re-introduce in the 112th Congress. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., announced at the hearing that he would be offering legislation next Congress that would ensure that children are not tracked on the Internet.