Lawmakers Push for “Do-Not-Track”

May 3rd, 2013

Consumers who don’t want their every movement on the web tracked can resort to the method used by Parks and Rec character Ron Swanson. But they may not have to. Efforts to protect consumers from being tracked by marketers when they shop online have gained momentum in recent weeks.

The FTC and several lawmakers are pushing for a “do-not-track” system that would allow web-users to opt out of having their online information tracked and used by marketers to target them with ads.

U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-West Virginia, who has spearheaded the push, proposed the “Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2013” in February that would require the FTC to come up with a do-not-track system. In April, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez urged the advertising industry to give web users “effective and meaningful privacy protection.”

“Do-not-track” refers to the tracking of Internet cookies. Cookies are packets of information collected by websites on their visitors. While many cookies are benign, such as those used to remember items in an online shopping cart, others keep tabs across the web on users’ information. Marketers can use that information, such as age, gender, web interests, education and income estimates, to target web users with tailored ads. (There’s a reason that DVD you looked at on Amazon shows up two days later in a Facebook ad.)

Many web users and consumer advocacy groups object to such tracking, and want a system that allows web surfers to opt out to protect their privacy.

Most web browsers already have some kind of do-not-track option installed, which web users can turn on. Some, like Mozilla and Microsoft, will soon make or already have made do-not-track the default setting for their browsers. But the advertising industry agues that a do-not-track default option takes the choice away from consumers and could harm online advertising on sites that are now free to use because of ad revenue.

While both consumer advocates and advertisers agree that such an opt-out system should exist, the groups disagree over who should regulate a do-not-track system. The advertising industry has insisted it can regulate itself, and has established an opt-out system for participating advertisers.

But Senator Rockefeller has criticized the advertising industry’s opt-out system, saying that many advertisers simply ignore consumers’ requests not to be tracked. During a do-not-track Congressional hearing in April, Rockefeller repeatedly accused the advertising industry of reneging on their 2012 promise to honor do-not-track requests, and he insisted repeatedly that legislation was the only solution that would protect consumer’s privacy.

The World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), an organization that develops web standards, will discuss do-not-track standards at meetings this month. A WC3 draft proposes web users be able to opt out of tracking through their web browser settings.

For more on Internet cookies, click here.

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Established in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC is the United States government’s primary regulatory authority in the area of consumer protection and anti-competitive business practices in the marketplace. Its Bureau of Consumer Protection assumes the lead in the Commission’s efforts to eliminate deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices at work in the economy.

In actuality a cherished geographical region of the planet featuring enormous biodiversity; now synonymous with an e-commerce site where you can buy virtually any product known to man.

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