FTC to release 'do not track' report on Web privacy

Momentum is building behind the concept of a list that lets Web users opt out of ad-related tracking, but the FTC may not have the authority to enforce it.

David Vladeck, director of consumer protection for the Federal Trade Commission
David Vladeck, director of consumer protection for the Federal Trade Commission FTC

WASHINGTON--The Federal Trade Commission is ready to release a key report on online privacy and the concept of a "do not track" approach to Web marketing, but it will probably have to get Congress involved to see any meaningful change, a FTC commissioner said today.

David Vladeck, head of the bureau of consumer protection at the FTC, told attendees at Consumer Watchdog's Future of Online Consumer Protections conference that the agency plans to release the report later this morning that will lay bare the FTC's commitment to giving U.S. consumers greater choice when it comes to opting out of online tracking. Vladeck declined to get into specifics for fear of upstaging his boss later in the day, but said "we need to reduce the burden on consumers" to monitor how companies are tracking their activities on the Internet for advertising purposes.

Consumer Watchdog, a noted critic of Google and many online advertising practices in general, has been pushing for a "do not track" list that would be similar to the "do not call" list, a popular way of restricting unwanted telemarketing calls. In general, the Internet industry has resisted the notion of such a list fearing that a poorly designed piece of legislation could restrict their ability to gather advertising-related analytics, which justifies the price of many an Internet ad.

Vladeck said such a list was "technically viable," but did not outline specific ways that such a list might be enforced, such as providing a browser plug-in or "make me anonymous" button on Web sites. He also admitted that the FTC probably lacks the authority to truly enforce a "do not track" list, saying that Congress would likely have to pass a law for Internet companies to comply, as was needed to enforce the "do not call" list.

Vladeck also addressed the FTC's investigation into Google's Street View Wi-Fi spying debacle, saying the agency found "no deception" on Google's part. Google has apologized for using its Street View cars to gather "payload" data from unsecured wireless access points, which in some cases included user names and passwords, but has so far avoided federal prosecution over the incident.

We'll get into the specifics of the report when it is released at 8 a.m. PT today.

About the author

    Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.

     

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