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FTC proposes ‘Do Not Track’ list for Internet users

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 12:43 EDT
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InternetModeled on the National Do Not Call Registry, the Federal Trade commission proposed on Wednesday the creation of a “Do Not Track” registry for Internet users.

The proposal comes amid news that Mozilla Corp., the maker of the popular web browser Firefox, is considering creating a do-not-track mechanism to offer greater privacy protection.

The “Do Not Track” list would prevent Internet marketers and other companies from tracking the personal web history of users on the list, the government agency said.

Internet marketers use a small data file known as a cookie to track the web history of Internet users and deliver relevant advertisements. The use of cookies to collect this type of data has become ubiquitous on the web, but the files are almost always downloaded without the users knowledge.

Although it is possible to opt out of receiving cookies and nothing prevents the files from simply being deleted by the user, privacy advocates say the opt-out process is too technical for many users and requires a separate opt-out of every ad network.

Jon Leibowitz, the FTC chairman, said the proposed “Do Not Track” registry would be a “universally easy-to-use mechanism for consumers that would run through the FTC or could be run through some sort of private entity.”

“It’s a really promising idea that would empower consumers to choose their own level of privacy protections,” he said. “We still need to learn a little more about it. For example, would there be a problem with malefactors getting folks’ e-mail addresses?”

“We looked at the notion of doing a Do Not Spam registry, and we decided against it because we were afraid the list of people opting out could get into the wrong hands,” Leibowitz said.

In order for the proposal to be put into action, tracking companies would have to agree not to track users on the “Do Not Track” registry and browser makers would have to agree to add the necessary code to their software.

So far, neither the tracking companies or browser makers have signed on to the idea.

Google and Microsoft both told the Wall Street Journal they were awaiting details of the proposal before taking a position. Apple refused to comment.

Officials from Mozilla Corp. and online advertising companies plan to meet to discuss adding a do-not-track mechanism to the Firefox browser before “government tries to legislate how browsers function,” the event’s organizer said.

Mozilla had previously considered implementing such a mechanism but feared it would prompt tracking companies to use even more secretive methods to collect data.

The “Do Not Track” registry is one of many proposals made by the FTC in its report on online privacy.

“This proposal is intended to inform policymakers, including Congress, as they develop solutions, policies, and potential laws governing privacy, and guide and motivate industry as it develops more robust and effective best practices and self-regulatory guidelines,” according to the report.

 
 
 
 
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