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Privacy groups push 'Do Not Track' list for online marketers

It would be similar to the FTC's Do Not Call list

October 31, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Consumers fed up with having their online activities surreptitiously tracked, recorded and profiled by online marketers and advertising networks have a new ally.

A group of nine privacy advocacy organizations today submitted a proposal to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to consider implementing a Do Not Track list to protect people from having their online activities unknowingly tracked and used by marketers. The group also wants the formal definition of the term "personally identifiable information" updated, and it said Internet advertisers should be forced to provide more robust disclosures on any behavioral tracking they are doing.

The groups involved in the effort are the Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumer Action, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Activism, Public Information Research Inc., Privacy Journal, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the World Privacy Forum.

At a news conference this morning, Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said the Do Not Track list is similar in concept to the FTC's Do Not Call list. It would give people the ability to opt out of behavior-based online ad campaigns, he said.

Basically, a Do Not Track list would require companies that undertake consumer behavioral tracking for advertising purposes to register their tracking servers with the FTC. Consumers could then download that information and use it to block servers on the FTC list from planting persistent tracking tools on their systems.

To get such a system to work, consumers might have to download a browser upgrade or plug-ins. Developers of browser applications, in fact, would be encouraged to create plug-ins to allow users to easily download and implement the Do Not Track list on their computers, Schwartz said.

"Consumers would be turning over no information" to the FTC, Schwartz. All they would need to do is download the list of domains from the FTC list and use that to block the tracking of their online behavior, he said, adding that consumers could get regular updates of new domains added to the list. Advertisers, however, would not be blocked from serving up ads to consumers. Only the tracking of activities would be blocked.

The proposed plan is designed to make it as easy for consumers to opt out of online tracking as it was for those on the Do Not Call list to opt out of unwanted telephone calls, Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America, said at this morning's news conference.

"The consumer needs to have a clear and consumer-friendly opportunity to opt out of being tracked," Cooper said. "We need a basic set of protections that consumers can count on," along with enforcement of those protections, he said.



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