'Do Not Track' guards personal info

For the first time in American history a privacy proposal to give people the right to stop collection of their personal information online has passed a legislative committee.A bill that would give people the right to opt out of being tracked online passed its first hurdle in California as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to move it forward in the Senate. The 3-to-2 vote came late Tuesday afternoon after the committee held the first-in-the-nation hearing on "Do Not Track" legislation. "Once again California is leading the way in protecting privacy rights," said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project. "We hope the California legislation prompts action at the national level." California has often led the nation on privacy protections, Consumer Watchdog noted. For instance, the Golden State pioneered the Do Not Call list, implementing it under then Attorney General Bill Lockyer two years before the FTC launched a national list. Today the Do Not Call list has more than 200 million phone numbers and is arguably the most important consumer protection of the last decade. The "Do Not Track" bill, SB 761, introduced by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach would give people a way to send a "Do Not Track" message from their browsers. Websites would be required to honor the request. The legislation would apply to companies doing business in California. Consumer Watchdog is sponsoring Lowenthal's bill. "Consumers should have the right to choose if their private information - from shoe size, to health concerns, to religious beliefs - is collected, analyzed and profiled by companies tracking activities online. Do Not Track is the simple way for consumers to say 'no thanks' to being monitored while they surf the web," said Simpson. Three of the four major browsers - Mozillia's Firefox, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari - have or will soon have a mechanism to send the "Do Not Track" message. Only Google with Chrome is resisting. The problem is there is no requirement that a website must honor the "Do Not Track" request, Consumer Watchdog said. SB 761 authorizes the California Attorney General to write regulations spelling out those responsibilities and to enforce them for California businesses. The bill also provides that websites with which a consumer has an ongoing business relationship could gather information necessary for transactions even if the consumer had enabled Do Not Track. "A Do Not Track mechanism would give consumers better control of their information and help restore their confidence in the Internet," said Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog president. "That's a win-win for consumers and businesses." In December, the Federal Trade Commission's report, "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change," endorsed a "Do Not Track" mechanism. Since then Rep. Jackie Speier, D-CA, has introduced HR 654, the Do Not Track Me Online Act. But the national bill faces uncertain prospects in the Republican-controlled House. Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA. Find us on the web at ConsumerWatchdog.org

********** Published: May 5, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 3