FTC chair raises “Do Not Track Me” idea; Congressional support grows

Support for Do Not Track Me legislation is growing in Washington with the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission telling ABC’s Good Morning America on Friday that "one of the things we are thinking about is a Do Not Track List."

The idea is to allow consumers to opt out of having their Web activities tracked by companies wanting to to target them with ads. According to a recent study by The Wall Street Journal, 50 of the most popular U.S. websites are placing intrusive tracking technologies on visitors’ computers — in some cases, more than 100 tracking tools at a time.

Chairman Jon Leibowitz was interviewed just before Common Sense Media released a Zogby International poll of parents and teens revealing that three out of four parents say that social networks aren’t doing a good job of protecting kids’ online privacy. Sites popular with kids and teens place even more tracking technologies on users’ computers than sites aimed at adults.

The Zogby International poll also found that 91 percent of parents think that search engines, like Google,and social networking sites, like Facebook, should not be able to share kids’ physical location with other companies until parents give authorization.

In the Good Morning America Interview Leibowitz also referred to his agency’s much anticipated report on protecting consumers’ online privacy that the FTC is now expected to issue after the mid-term election.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-AK, has been working on Do Not Track Me legislation that would create a way to block tracking that would be analogous to the Do Not Call List covering telemarketers and administered by the FTC. An aide told me that it will be released after the election.

In the House Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, plans to hold hearings after the election on his online privacy bill and examine the possibility of adding a Do Not Track provision, according to Tim Robinson, counsel to Rush’s subcommittee.

The Zogby poll was released by Common Sense Media as it launched a "Protect our Privacy — Protect Our Kids Campaign." Here are some key findings:

  • Three quarters of parents (75%) say they would rate the job that social networks are doing to protect children’s online privacy as negative. In addition, a majority of parents (68%) say they’re not at all confident in search engines keeping their private information safe and secure, and 71% of parents say they’re not confident in social networking sites keeping their private information safe and secure.
  • A vast majority of parents (88%) say they would support a law that required online search engines and social networking services to get users’ permission before they use personal information to market products – a scenario often called allowing users to “opt-in.” A vast majority of teens (85%) say that online search engines and social networking services should be required to get permission before using personal information to market products to them.
  • Two-thirds of parents (67%) believe that their personal information is not secure and private online. A majority of teens say they don’t feel their personal information is secure and private online or they’re not sure if it is, while 44% say they think such information is secure.
  • Nearly all parents say they would take more time to read terms and conditions for websites if they were shorter and written in clear language. A vast majority of teens (85%) say they would take more time to read the terms and conditions for websites and other online services if they were shorter and written in clear language.
  • The vast majority of respondents say that search engines and online social networking sites should not be able to share their physical location with other companies before they have given specific authorization, while a strong majority of teens (81%) say the same.
  • 85% of parents say they’re more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago, and 69% of parents believe online privacy is a shared responsibility of individuals and online companies.
  • 79% of teens think their friends share too much personal information online.

Those findings jibe with our July poll by Grove Insight that shows consumers concerned about online privacy protection and eager to support legislative action to ensure their privacy is protected. Despite the huffing and puffing from the online industry, I’d say its a question of not whether rules will be enacted, but when. I’m betting by next spring.

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Posted by John Simpson, director of the Inside Google project at Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

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