David Kirkpatrick

September 7, 2010

“Do Not Track” movement gaining traction in DC

“Do Not Track” would be akin to the “Do Not Call” list opt-out consumer registry to prevent unsolicited sales pitches and other calls, and right now looks to have a legitimate shot at reaching the proposed legislation level, if not further. The privacy advocacy, Consumer Watchdog, is running an ad in Times Square (on a 540-square foot digital billboard no less) mocking Google’s CEO Erik Schmidt as a snooping ice cream man.

Now Schmidt (and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg) have made some very boneheaded public statements about online privacy — and I’m a huge advocate of online privacy — but the reality is some level of tracking is necessary to keep the internet rolling along in its current fashion. Take away the legitimate revenue from data mining web user’s habits and all of a sudden you’ll be running into paywall after paywall of premium content. And on top of that, the technology to track web usage wouldn’t be going anywhere, it would just only be utilized by criminals or entities looking to circumvent anti tracking regulations.

Because of Schmidt and Zuckerberg’s public idiocy on online privacy, and actual privacy gaffes like Facebook’s well-publicized multiple self-inflicted wounds, the general public is much more aware of exactly how tracked they are, and even if they don’t understand exactly how that data is used, they don’t like it. Consumer Watchdog’s commissioned poll (grain of salt here due to the poll’s source) found 80 percent of the public supporting a “Do Not Track” registry. That is a high number.

So now that the online privacy debate has gone mainstream, look for likely legislation to his Washington sometime soon. And if all comes to pass, the Federal Trade Commission may get its say in this process. Is that what anyone really wants? I doubt it.

From the link:

Do Not Track legislation would be similar to the national Do Not Call registry, allowing consumers to opt out of having their web activities tracked for advertising purposes. It is a concept that has gained surprising momentum –  surprising, given the gridlock that otherwise exists on Capitol Hill – and could well be proposed as legislation in the upcoming session. House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee ChairmanRick Boucher, D-Va., and Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection Subcommittee ChairmanBobby Rush, D-Ill., are working on privacy legislation that they hope to have ready for for the next Congress. The Do Not Call list would likely be included.

Then there is the Federal Trade Commission. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told a Senate panel that the commission is exploring the idea as well (via Nextgov). The opt-out process could be run by the FTC or some private sector entity, he suggested.

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