FTC Considers “Do Not Track” Mechanism For Web Users

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has accepted a preliminary staff report that lays out a framework for Internet privacy and suggests a “do not track” mechanism – possibly a persistent cookie installed on browsers.

The agency was careful to point out that the commissioners see privacy measures as a balancing act. The news release quotes FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz:

“Technological and business ingenuity have spawned a whole new online culture and vocabulary – email, IMs, apps and blogs – that consumers have come to expect and enjoy. The FTC wants to help ensure that the growing, changing, thriving information marketplace is built on a framework that promotes privacy, transparency, business innovation and consumer choice. We believe that’s what most Americans want as well.”

The report also said industry efforts to guard users’ privacy through self-regulation have been too slow and haven’t provided adequate and meaningful protection.

“Although many companies use privacy policies to explain their information practices, the policies have become long, legalistic disclosures that consumers usually don’t read and don’t understand if they do. Current privacy policies force consumers to bear too much burden in protecting their privacy.”

The FTC report recommended that companies should have a “privacy by design” approach and build privacy protections into everyday business practices including:

— reasonable security for consumer data
— limited data collection and retention
— reasonable procedures to promote data accuracy

“Companies also should implement and enforce procedurally sound privacy practices throughout their organizations, including assigning personnel to oversee privacy issues, training employees, and conducting privacy reviews for new products and services,” they said.

“… consumers should be presented with choice about collection and sharing of their data at the time and in the context in which they are making decisions – not after having to read long, complicated disclosures that they often cannot find.”

The commissioners approved the preliminary staff report by a vote of 5-0.

FTC Staff Issues Privacy Report Offers Framework for Consumers, Businesses, and Policymakers

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Tom Kelchner is Research Center Manager at Sunbelt Software. Tom is a communications professional with extensive background in computer security, anti-virus application testing and computer virus analysis. He is a former daily newspaper reporter and deputy press secretary to governor of Pennsylvania.