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Rockefeller Privacy Bill Encourages but Doesn't Require 'Do-Not-Track' Rockefeller Privacy Bill Encourages but Doesn't Require 'Do-Not-Track'

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Technology / TECHNOLOGY

Rockefeller Privacy Bill Encourages but Doesn't Require 'Do-Not-Track'

Balancing act: Security or privacy?(Getty Images/AFP/NICHOLAS KAMM)

photo of Josh Smith
May 9, 2011

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced his promised “do-not-track” privacy bill and gained the support of a range of consumer groups, but the legislation falls short of requiring do-not-track options.

Under the bill, Internet browsers or other services won't be compelled to provide a do-not-track option; but advertising companies will be legally required to respect do-not-track services as long as they meet certain standards yet to be determined by the Federal Trade Commission, said Ioana Rusu, the regulatory counsel for Consumers Union.

Currently, Mozilla’s Firefox offers do-not-track options, while others are in the works for some browsers. Rusu said that those efforts are largely toothless, however, because advertising companies are not legally obligated to stop tracking.

 

Rockefeller’s bill aims to change that by enforcing current and future do-not-track options. His measure is unlikely to affect browsers such as Google’s Chrome or even Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9, which allow users to opt out of targeted ads sent by individual companies.

Users of Google and Yahoo search engines can opt out of targeted advertising, but Chrome uses a system where users choose to not view ads based on their information.

This option, however, usually doesn’t stop the companies from gathering information, and it’s not clear that this would change under Rockefeller’s plan.

Rusu said she discussed this worry with Senate staffers, and she believes that despite not having a specific tracking requirement, the bill will allow consumers to protect their personal information.

"Under this plan, other groups could step forward and create systems that allow consumers to opt out," she said. "Even if industry decided not to step up, others will." Rusu said that the bill is an “extremely” important step in protecting privacy.

According to the text of the legislation, the FTC will establish rules to allow consumers to “simply and easily indicate whether the individual prefers to have personal information collected by providers of online services.”

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, called the bill a “very, very big step forward.”

Rockefeller described his measure as a “simple, straightforward” proposal.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Rockefeller’s legislation is more limited in scope than a consumer privacy bill proposed by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz. Their measure doesn't include a do-not-track provision, but Rusu said it would not be difficult to meld the two bills.

"If they were meshed, it would be the best of both worlds," she said.

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