US lawmakers brace for location tracking debate

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US lawmakers brace for location tracking debate

A 'do-not-track' bill introduced in the US Senate would give consumers the ability to prevent companies from collecting information about their web browsing activities.

A new 'do-not-track' bill introduced this week into the US Senate would give consumers the ability to prevent companies from collecting information about their web browsing activities.

The Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011, introduced by Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, would prohibit online providers from collecting personal information from individuals who do not wish to have their activities – including mobile web usage – monitored. The bill would also allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to seek penalties against violators.

“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,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “I believe consumers have a right to decide whether their information can be collected and used online.”

If enacted, the bill would require the FTC to create standards within one year for the development of a do-not-track mechanism that would allow individuals to easily inform online providers of their preference to opt-out.

Rockefeller's bill has been widely supported by a number of US privacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“While we spend more and more of our lives online, our ability to control the collection, sharing and use of the information we share is severely lacking,” ACLU Washington director Laura Murphy said in a statement. “A do-not-track list will give Americans the chance to both opt out of opportunistic marketing tactics and keep their personal information out of the hands of the government."

Members of the online advertising community, however, have argued that such a law would hamper innovation and that the industry's self-regulatory efforts to date have been effective.

The Direct Marketing Association on Monday expressed “disappointment” with Rockefeller's bill, noting that a federal law is not needed, given the protections online advertising companies already have established. The group pointed to its Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising, launched last year, which already provides a way for users to click on ad icons to prevent companies from tracking their online movements.

But according to the FTC, industry efforts to address privacy through self-regulation have not gone far enough.

“Industry as a whole needs to do a far better job,” FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said late last year. “From my perspective, a legislative solution will surely be needed if industry doesn't step up to the plate.”

In December, the FTC urged browser makers to develop a do-not-track mechanism so consumers can choose whether to allow the collection of data regarding online searching and browsing activities.

Since then, Microsoft included such a capability in its Internet Explorer 9 web browser, as did Google for Chome and Mozilla for Firefox.

Republican Jackie Speier released a similar bill in the US House in  February. Also in the House, Republican Edward Markey and Republican Joe Barton last week introduced a discussion draft of the Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011, which would prohibit companies from tracking the online activities of children without parental consent. It would also ban companies from using children's information for targeted marketing purposes. 

In California, SB-761, which would require businesses that collect and use consumer's online data to provide a do-not-track mechanism, received approval last week from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This article originally appeared at scmagazineus.com

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