A key Federal Trade Commission official provided some details about the commission's staff privacy report that will be released Wednesday, saying that he believed that the technology is available to implement a "do-not-track" system and would provide consumers a simpler way to control their privacy online.
During a conference on consumer protection sponsored by Consumer Watchdog, FTC Consumer Protection Bureau Director David Vladeck would not say whether the agency in its privacy report has recommended the creation of a "do-not-track" system or some other mechanism that would give consumers more choice about how they are tracked.
However, Vladeck said consumers "want control and to go online without being tracked." He said while private sector efforts to give consumers some ways to opt-out of tracking are "laudable," he noted there are many differing approaches that are difficult for consumers to follow. "We have to simplify consumer choice," Vladeck said. "The do-not-track option can achieve that goal."
When asked about industry's claims that a do-not-track would be difficult to implement and might not be technologically feasible, Vladeck said he believes "there are technological means to implement a do-not-track system. I do not think there are serious arguments about technical viability."
While such a mechanism is similar to the idea of the Do-Not-Call registry that allows consumers to sign up to opt-out of receiving most telemarketing calls, Susan Grant with the Consumer Federation of America said a do-not-track system should differ by being a "browser-based solution that would be simple for consumers and trackers to use."
Privacy and security researcher Chris Soghoian, a former FTC technology official, added, "There would be no government registry of consumers that do not want to be tracked. ... We want a generic opt out that is persistent."
Grant said such as system is needed because consumers are being "tracked on the Internet wherever they go, whatever they do, without their knowledge." She noted that the information is being compiled and analyzed primarily to allow firms to target ads at consumers based on their preferences. "But it also can be used to make assumptions about people for employment, health insurance and financial services," Grant added.
Vladeck said he did not think the FTC has the authority to implement such a list on its own and would likely need congressional approval.
Other issues Vladeck said would be addressed in the report include a need to simplify privacy policies, to build privacy into product design and to extend stronger protections for sensitive information such as medical or financial data.