Regulators Still Pressing for Do-Not-Track Standards

Lora Bentley

Despite progress in efforts to provide online consumers with a means of "opting out" of Web tracking or data-sharing practices, regulators and legislators are sill dissatisfied, according to Though Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox, Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Apple's Safari either have or are testing various do-not-track mechanisms that will allow Web surfers to opt out of targeted advertising and/or personal data collection, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., wants an industry-wide standard.


In a recent hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Rockefeller said:

I want ordinary consumers to know what is being done with their personal information, and I want to give them the power to do something about it.

To that end, he is sponsoring legislation that would authorize the Federal Trade Commission to implement and enforce regulation on the issue. As I wrote back in May, [groups] from Consumer Protection to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse approve of the bill largely because it gives the FTC flexibility in creating "a persistent opt-out mechanism."


Despite browser providers' willingness to build in do-not-track technology and put it to work, observers told we're not even close to an industry-wide standard. Besides the companies that make the browsers and provide search engines, advertisers and other companies that would otherwise use the information collected by Web tracking have to agree to honor the consumers' requests.


Before they can do that, writer Joelle Tessler explains, the players need to agree on what "do not track" means:

[T]he industry needs to find a way to let consumers halt intrusive online marketing practices without preventing tracking critical for the Internet to function. After all, Internet companies rely on tracking not just to target ads, but also to analyze website traffic patterns, store online passwords and deliver customized content like local news. Nobody wants to stop those things.

So will the solution involve continued data collection for non-advertising purposes? That's where the problem lies. Privacy advocates don't like that plan, but website owners don't want to give it up. Where should the line be drawn? I say let the consumers decide what information is collected and what advertising is blocked, and leave it at that.


If only it were that simple ...

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