FTC's 'Do Not Track' Proposal Brings Phone Privacy Concept to Web
One of the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) most popular initiatives is the National Do Not Call registry, which allows people to control what telemarketing phone calls they receive. A new FTC proposal would give the public similar authority of their Web browsing habits with the creation of a "Do Not Track" registry.
The FTC recently published a staff report entitled Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change that proposes a framework to balance the privacy interests of consumers with innovation that relies on consumer information to develop beneficial new products and services.
This includes the Do Not Track option so that consumers can control what information marketers and other businesses learn about user behavior.
Web advertisers and marketing firms already know much about consumers' online behavior. Much of it is learned via software snippets called cookies that track the browser paths individuals use when shopping, searching or reading online. That's one way they know which items to recommend that users buy, or what products to advertise on individuals' Facebook pages. The cookies remember what sites you visit, what products you buy and who you follow on social media sites.
But the data collected on users is shared in other ways. Most sites post their privacy policies in small type and written in lengthy legal jargon most consumers have no interest in reading. Buried in those statements is what privacy the user is willingly giving up. For example, many retailers reserve the right to sell your information to third parties and while opting out of that is possible, it isn't easy.
When you click on the unsubscribe link on an e-mail, you think you should be immediately unsubscribed, said Doug Wolfgram, CEO of IntelliProtect, an online privacy management service. But sometimes it takes weeks. That's so the company can sell the information about you.
This is the behavior the FTC would like to stop with its Do Not Track registry. However, it is easier said than done.
One of the reasons the FTC's Do Not Call list has been so successful is because people had direct interaction with telemarketers the ringing phone interrupted dinner or time was wasted listening to an unwanted sales pitch. The opt-out registry saved telemarketers time and money, too, because they no longer had to contact phone numbers of people unlikely to want the product. Do Not Call also primarily involved U.S. companies and U.S. households.
Online, however, most users have no idea they are being tracked, said Wolfgram. The marketing is also well-targeted to items that have some interest to the user. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the Internet as a global entity. Will a Do Not Track registry cover marketers from Europe and Asia?
The Internet has been a self-regulatory industry, Wolfgram said, and the FTC is now recognizing that self-regulation and consumer privacy haven't mixed well. The FTC's report looks at a number of privacy issues that currently face Internet users; the Do Not Track registry is one likely solution.
For consumers who would like to control their own privacy until regulations and opt-out options are in place, Wolfgram suggested the following:
- Request your name is removed from any list you don't wish to be on.
- Block your browser cookies completely from people who are trying to track you.
- Set a cookie on your browser to dictate what can be sent to you but doesn't allow you to be tracked.
The bottom line, he said Know what's going on with your Internet use and choose what you want to expose.
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