FTC weighs in on Web privacy

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- A simple system to protect the privacy of Web users as they visit sites on the Internet got a vote of support from the U.S. government, privacy advocates said.

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday it wants companies that track users' movements across the Web, such as advertising firms, to use a system called Do Not Track to give consumers an easy way to opt out of such monitoring, reported.


Researchers at Stanford University say they want Apple, Microsoft and other browser developers to incorporate a special Do Not Track "header" option into their software.

Headers are snippets of information that browsers send to Web sites that users visit.

The Do Not Track header, if activated, would be a message instructing the Web site not to record the user's visit.

"Online advertisers are tracking people with an astonishing array of methods," Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says. "The Do Not Track proposal is a response to this predicament."

Legislators in the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection are also considering taking action on tracking of users.

"This is the most bipartisan of issues," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz says.


Advertisers are expected to resist such proposals, as the industry uses tracking technology to learn about Internet users' interests and to target ads accordingly.

Recent reports in the Wall Street Journal alleged advertising executives have pressured browser developers into limiting anti-tracking systems, reported.

Even if it Congress decides to legislate on Do Not Track, the effectiveness of such technology is not certain, since consumers would have no way of knowing whether a Web site had honored their no-tracking request.

Leibowitz says that he wants to get feedback on the proposals before considering how best to enforce the system.

"We're not at the point where we can figure out how to punish violators," he says.

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