FTC strongly suggests do-not-track option in online privacy plan

do not track option for online privacy

An FTC proposal for online privacy urges companies in the online industry to adopt a "do not track" standard or the agency will get Congress to do it for them. Image: CC Barry D/Flickr

The Federal Trade Commission proposed an online privacy plan Wednesday. Part of the FCC privacy plan suggests a “do-not-track” option for web browsers and social media sites. A do-not-track option would prevent a person’s browsing history from being sold to third party sites for targeted advertising.

The FTC online privacy proposal

The do-not-track suggestion is part of an FTC online privacy proposal open to public comment until Jan. 31. In a press conference Wednesday, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told reporters that the privacy plan is outside the agency’s regulatory authority and it is intended as a guide for best practices to be considered by companies and lawmakers. The FTC said that consumers bear most of the burden for online privacy protection and more policies need to be in place to help them make informed choices. The FTC is looking for feedback on how a do-not-track mechanism should be offered and what the result may be if most people decide to use it.

Existing do-not-track options

A do-not-track option is already being explored by certain companies, but the FTC is suggesting a more universal, enforceable solution. Microsoft introduced the “InPrivate Browsing” setting with Internet Explorer 8. Firefox offers a “Private Browsing” setting and Google Chrome features private browsing in “Incognito” mode. However, widely used technologies such as Adobe’s “Flash cookies,” although not designed specifically for tracking, are being collected by third parties to use for targeted advertising. Facebook has also been pushing privacy limits by offering members’ personal information to third party sites.

The FTC’s online privacy warning

The FTC online privacy proposal can be interpreted as a warning to Internet companies to clean up their privacy acts sooner rather than later or the government will do it for them. Leibowitz said that if the online industry doesn’t “step up to the plate,” the FTC would recommend legislation requiring a do-not-track standard. Congress held an Internet privacy hearing earlier this year at which legislators compared the web to a “deeply disturbing shopping mall” where machines watch and record your every move.



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