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Consumer protection agency demands 'do-not-track' online option

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3rd Dec 2010
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The top US consumer protection agency has called for the introduction of a ‘do-not-track’ option for online behavioural advertising and proposed that brands make it easier for consumers to review the data collected about them.

The Federal Trade Commission’s release of a 122-page draft privacy report comes after more than a year of hearings and a string of complaints and lawsuits against online advertising companies for surreptitiously tracking users’ behaviour and compiling profiles of their preferences in order to target them for marketing purposes.

The report is intended to provide a privacy framework to prevent "irresponsible or even reckless" marketing practices. It continued: "Industry efforts to address privacy through self-regulation have been too slow and up to now have failed to provide adequate and meaningful protection."

Some 58 US brands are now complying with a scheme introduced by the National Advertising Initiative, which enables consumers to opt out of being tracked. A further 30 companies are expected to follow over the next few weeks.

But a do-not-track mechanism would enable users to have their browser automatically tell any website not to track them for advertising purposes. The setting would not be wiped if they cleared out their browser cookies as is currently the case.

The FTC currently does not have the authority to enforce such a mechanism, however, which would require legislative change by Congress. David Vladec, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, explained: “There are ways that we can coax, cajole and charm the industry, but I don’t believe the FTC has the existing authority to mandate a do-not-track system.”

But head of the FTC Jon Leibowitz added: "Self-regulation of privacy is not working for American consumers. A legislative solution will surely be needed if industry doesn’t step up to the plate."

Mike Zaneis, senior vice president and general counsel of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which represents 460 companies selling online advertising, told Businessweek that the industry simply needed to "redouble its efforts in self-regulation", however. Unsurprsingly, he added: "We don’t think a do-not-track law is necessary."

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