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Bill would shield users from marketers

A bill would require marketers to inform Web users that they are collecting information.

Companies that surreptitiously collect marketing data on Web surfers must disclose their practices and give consumers a chance to withdraw the information under a bill introduced yesterday in the House of Representatives.

The bill's sponsor, Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts), said consumers should be told if information is being gathered on them and if it is going to be sold or reused, according to Bloomberg news service. Consumers should also have the right to stop a company from collecting information, such as their names, addresses, buying preferences, favorite Web site, computer purchases, and other personal information.

Many companies, including McDonald's and Walt Disney, gather information about consumers through their Web sites, particularly on children. While Disney's site does bear a disclaimer warning that information gathered will be subject to unrestricted commercial use, many sites do not.

Markey said the practice amounts to "a hijacking of personal information," and a violation of privacy.

The bill would not mandate federal regulation of the Internet but instead require the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to determine if industry standards exist to protect consumer privacy. Regulations would be imposed by the agencies only if adequate security doesn't exist or if a particular industry refuses to comply voluntarily.

Related stories:
Rules issued for online privacy
Children-targeted marketing under fire