Jay Rockefeller introduces “Do Not Track” bill in Congress

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has introduced a new “Do Not Track” bill to Congress that aims to hold companies accountable for collecting information on consumers after they’ve expressed a desire to opt out. Called the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011 [.pdf], the bill would create a “universal legal obligation” for companies to honor users’ opt-out requests on the Internet and mobile devices, and would give the Federal Trade Commission the power to take action against companies that don’t comply…

According to the bill, the FTC would be tasked with coming up with standards for companies to implement within a year of the bill being signed into law. After a user makes a request to stop being tracked, the companies in question would only be able to continue collecting certain information on customers if it’s absolutely necessary in order for the site or service to function. That information must still be anonymized or destroyed after its usefulness expires, and the user must still give explicit consent for the information to be used that way…

Privacy groups seem impressed with the bill, pointing out that the FTC has a good deal of flexibility in tailoring a persistent opt-out mechanism. “This legislation would give Americans the right and the right tools to browse the Internet without their every click being tracked,” Consumer Protection director Susan Grant said on a call to discuss the bill after it was introduced. Chris Calabrese from the ACLU agreed, describing the bill as “a crucial civil liberties protection for the twenty-first century…”

Of course, the final details for how companies are supposed to comply with the guidelines of Rockefeller’s bill have yet to be hammered out, but the privacy groups seemed optimistic that the FTC could handle the burden. After all, the FTC itself has been pushing for a Do Not Track mechanism online since 2010, and the Obama administration has voiced its support for some kind of “consumer privacy bill of rights.” Also, three of the four major browsers (Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari) either already support or will soon support Do Not Track opt-out headers originally developed by Mozilla, giving the FTC an easier launching point.

Geeks generally come in three flavors of concern: those perfectly happy with providing their own means of security; those who could care less; and the ever-popular paranoid look-under-your-mouse-pad-every-night for electronic listening devices. I believe the average non-geek consumer fits in the middle category.

None of which predicts the response to the bill if it passes. I would think even the unconcerned would opt for non-tracking if it was a simple process. Paranoids won’t believe it’s possible in the first place – and will probably skip opting out because it might point out their presence on the planet.

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