Groups recommend ‘Do Not Track List’

Call for more consumer control of online behavioral tracking

WASHINGTON—A group of nine privacy organizations – the Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Activism, Public Information Research, Privacy Journal, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and World Privacy Forum – asked the Federal Trade Commission today to provide needed consumer protections in the behavioral advertising sector. The groups have asked the FTC to implement a “Do Not Track List” intended to protect consumers from having their online activities unknowingly tracked, stored, and used by marketers and advertising networks. The Do Not Track List, which would function much like the national “Do Not Call” list, is one of several consumer privacy protections the group asked the FTC to adopt as part of a broad effort to correct a privacy imbalance that has deprived Americans of the ability to control their own valuable personal information. The groups offered the recommendations in a letter to the Commission in advance of its two-day town hall, “Ehavioral Advertising: Tracking, Targeting, and Technology” on Nov. 1-2. Click here to download a PDF copy of the letter. The letter also recommends:
  • The adoption of a new definition of “personally identifiable informatn” updated to reflect the realities of today’s Internet;
  • Providing more robust disclosures to consumers about behavioral tracking;
  • Ensuring that information about consumer privacy and choices is available to all individuals, including those who have visual, hearing, or other disabilities;
  • Independent auditing of those engaged in behavioral tracking to ensure adherence to privacy standards;
  • Providing consumers with access to personally identifiable information collected about them by companies engaged in behavioral tracking;
  • Prohibiting advertisers from collecting and using personally identifiable information about health, financial activities, and other sensitive data; and
  • Establishing a national “Online Consumer Protection Advisory Committee.”
Across an ever-growing array of electronic devices, from the Internet to mobile devices and beyond, consumers leave behind a vast amount of behavioral information that is being tracked and targeted without their knowledge. This “behavioral tracking” - the practice of collecting and compiling a record of individual consumers' activities, interests, preferences, and/or communications over time - places consumers' privacy at risk, and is not covered by federal law. “If you look back at the Do Not Call list, it was at one time managed by industry. But it didn’t gain widespread acceptance until the FTC took it over,” said Pam Dixon, Executive Director of the World Privacy Forum. “The industry has had seven years to prove they can manage online opt-outs. It is time to move toward something structured like the Do Not Call list to address the problems we are seeing, and have now seen for seven years.” The Do Not Track List springs from consumer protection principles on the Internet already enforced by the Commission, and builds on its experience as the lead law enforcement agency in the fight against and prosecution of spyware abuse. The Do Not Track List would require advertising entities that place persistent tracking technologies on consumers’ computers to register with the FTC all domain names of the servers involved in such activities. Developers of browser applications would be encouraged to create plug-ins allowing users to download the Do Not Track list onto their computers. Having the list accessible via a browser application would allow users to prevent any site from tracking behavioral data. “Online opt-outs should be as well-known and as easy as the Do Not Call list,” said Mark Cooper, Director of Research of the Consumer Federation of America. The Do Not Track List would still allow companies to place ads. The list would merely allow consumers to block servers on the list from tracking their online activities. The Center for Democracy and Technology offers a PDF illustration of how the Do Not Track List would work. “All too few of the developments we've witnessed in the Internet space have been focused on how to improve the marketplace for consumer privacy,” said Ari Schwartz, Deputy Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. “These policy recommendations offer bold new ideas for a path forward.”

Signatories:

Center for Democracy and Technology Consumer Action Consumer Federation of America Electronic Frontier Foundation Privacy Activism Public Information Research Privacy Journal Privacy Rights Clearinghouse World Privacy Forum
 
 

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