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Do Not Track privacy bill reintroduced in Senate

A new bill aims to ensure Web browsers and Internet companies give users an opt out option of being tracked online by advertisers and data brokers.

Senator Jay Rockefeller

A new bill intended to grant more privacy protections to Internet users was introduced today by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

Dubbed "Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2013," the bill would make it law for all Web browsers, online companies, and app makers to give users a choice of opting out of being tracked online, according to The New York Times. Advertisers and data brokers commonly track users to collect information on sites visited, search queries, purchasing patterns, and more.

"The privacy of Americans is increasingly under assault as more and more of their daily lives are conducted online," Rockefeller told The New York Times.

The senator proposed a similar bill in 2011 but then dropped it after industry groups said they would voluntarily develop ways for users to opt out. However, the industry groups were unable to come to an agreement with consumer rights groups about how to create such mechanisms.

"Industry made a public pledge to develop do-not-track standards that will truly protect consumer privacy -- and it has failed to live up to that commitment," Rockefeller told the Times. "They have dragged their feet long enough."

According to The New York Times, these industry groups argue that tracking is necessary because it helps advertisers show users pertinent ads, which pay for the sites. Also, tracking is more or less anonymous -- since data trackers follow IP addresses rather than users directly; so, industry groups say, no significant information about users is revealed.

Several Web browsers and tech companies have already given users Do Not Track options. Google built Do Not Track support into its Chrome Web browser in February 2012; and Yahoo implemented a Do Not Track service across its entire global network last March. Mozilla, Microsoft, and AOL have also committed to working with Do Not Track technology.

However, without a law, browsers and companies aren't required to comply with user wishes to opt out. Therefore, Rockefeller has decided to push his new bill to Congress.

In addition to giving users an opt-out choice, the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2013 would also allow the Federal Trade Commission to go after those companies that aren't complying with the law. The FTC would also be required to create the mechanisms that would let users say whether or not they want to be tracked.

Despite many attempts to introduce legislation, federal Internet privacy laws are scarce. The last major law to be passed that regulated online companies was 15 years ago with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.