US FTC moves on "Do Not Track" register

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US FTC moves on "Do Not Track" register

Privacy cookies for progress.

America's chief privacy regulator, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has firmed up its position on a Do Not Track register for browser cookies, providing a document that explains to policy makers how to introduce such a mechanism into law.

The register would work on a similar level to Do Not Call registers aimed at countering pestering phone marketers, but would instead rely on browser cookies that signal a consumer's choices about being tracked and receiving targeted ads.

The FTC's report Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers endorsed such a register since improvements to privacy through self-regulation "have been too slow, and up to now have failed to provide adequate and meaningful protection."

It also recommended a major simplification of the terms and conditions that consumers must accept to adopt a service by "by clarifying those practices for which consumer consent is unnecessary."

The idea of such a register has been toyed with for some time by the FTC's chairman, Jon Leibowitz, but was likely to be unpopular with the giants of targeted online marketing such as Facebook, Apple and Google.

All three companies were present at a Senate Committee held in August where Leibowitz aired the proposal.

Google's chief privacy officer, Alma Whitton, who was appointed to the role in the wake of its StreetView fiasco, stopped short of arguing for self-regulation to be maintained at the time, but said it was compelled to take privacy seriously since its customers would simply leave if it failed to "offer clear, usable privacy controls".

The FTC also bolstered its technology credentials as a regulator last month, when it appointed its first chief technology officer, the highly regarded Princeton University computer scientist, Dr Edward Felten.

While the report released today merely provided policy makers' legislative brainstorming fodder, Leibowitz warned that it would "take action against companies that cross the line with consumer data and violate consumers' privacy – especially when children and teens.

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