Inside 1to1:Privacy

Roundup on "do not track"

March 10, 2011

By IAPP staff

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission in December released a report on consumer privacy that called for a "do-not-track" mechanism by which Internet users could opt out of having their browsing activities monitored.

The call provoked sensational response, with online privacy advocates and some politicians singing support and online advertising industry officials warning that such a mechanism could bring the Internet as we know it to its knees.

"The Internet has quickly transformed our daily activities, giving us access to anything and everything with a click. And just as quickly, it could go away," Michael Zaneis of the Interactive Advertising Bureau wrote in U.S. News & World Report.

The FTC eschewed the idea of creating such a mechanism itself; rather, it suggested that a persistent setting at the browser level might be the solution.

"The commission...wisely left the door open to either legislative or self-regulatory solutions," Jules Polonetsky, CIPP, co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, told the IAPP Daily Dashboard on the day of the report's release.

Since then, both legislative and self-regulatory solutions have emerged.

Mozilla, Google and Microsoft have debuted or intend to debut do-not-track features for their respective browsers, and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has moved to require members to sign a new code of conduct that requires compliance with the industry's self-regulatory principles for online behavioral advertising. The IAB is giving members six months to comply with the principles or face possible sanctions.

"We need to prove we're serious about self-regulation," the IAB's director of public policy told ADWEEK.

Whether these moves will be enough to satisfy the FTC remains to be seen.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) last month introduced the Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011, a bill that would let consumers opt out of having their online activities tracked through the creation of a system like the one called for in the FTC report. And Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) has signaled his intent to drop a comprehensive children's privacy bill that will include a do-not-track requirement.

In an article on paidContent.org, Joe Mullin suggests that do-not-track legislation could pass in 2011 because of its nonpartisan nature and low costs. Mullin cites Clinton Administration privacy chief and law professor Peter Swire, CIPP, who said at a recent UC Berkeley event that "Congress is going to be looking for bills that have a specific attribute--bills that don't cost money out of the federal budget."

Passage or no passage, the scrutiny over "do not track" will most assuredly continue.

The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing about online privacy on March 16. In addition, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is also planning a workshop to assess the potential for adding "a Do Not Track User Preference to the client-side part of Web applications by augmenting the broadly discussed idea of a 'do not track' HTTP header with a DOM property." And the FTC will continue to review the hundreds of comments submitted during the public comment period on its report.

Meanwhile, targeted ads are coming to television. Let the debate begin.