FTC calls for "Do Not Track" list, new policies to protect online privacy

The Federal Trade Commission is proposing new policies around online privacy, including the creation of a "Do Not Track" mechanism as a means of easing the burden on consumers trying to keep tabs on who's keeping tabs on them.The goal of the proposal, which is open to public comment until January 31, is "to balance the privacy interests of consumers with innovation that relies on consumer information to develop beneficial new products and services.

The Federal Trade Commission is proposing new policies around online privacy, including the creation of a "Do Not Track" mechanism as a means of easing the burden on consumers trying to keep tabs on who's keeping tabs on them.

The goal of the proposal, which is open to public comment until January 31, is "to balance the privacy interests of consumers with innovation that relies on consumer information to develop beneficial new products and services." Facebook is one example of a company that has been innovating to channel the valuable data it has about its members into extended features but has also come under fire for crossing extremely fine lines when it comes to privacy.

And so, the commission is proposing some policies that would empower consumers to make educated decisions. Company privacy policies, for example, are "long, legalistic disclosures that consumers usually don’t read and don’t understand if they do." Consumers, the FTC argues, shouldn't have to bear so much of the burden to protect their own privacy.

The commissions recommends adoption of a "privacy by design" approach where protections are built into everyday business practices and suggested that companies step up their efforts to address privacy, such as implementing new policies, training employees and reviewing privacy implications of new products and services. It also suggested that, for the sake of reducing confusion, that companies be allowed to engage in "certain commonly accepted practices" without seeking consent. From the report:

It is reasonable for companies to engage in certain practices – namely, product and service fulfillment, internal operations such as improving services offered, fraud prevention, legal compliance, and first-party marketing. By clarifying those practices for which consumer consent is unnecessary, companies will be able to streamline their communications with consumers, reducing the burden and confusion on consumers and businesses alike.

Finally, the commission recommended a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would allow consumers to opt-out of any collection of their information about what they do on the Internet for the sake of serving ads. It said that the most practical method would involve a setting, such as a cookies, on a browser that dictates the user's choices as it pertains to tracking and receiving targeted ads.

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