Web firms agree to respect 'do not track'

Feb. 23, 2012 at 12:01 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Web firms have agreed to stop tracking Web users, if users request it, as part of a new U.S. Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, the White House said Thursday.

The Internet businesses and online ad networks that connect advertisers to Web sites that want to host ads have committed to using "do not track" technology in most major Web browsers, to make it easier for users to disable or otherwise control online tracking, the White House said in a statement.

Companies that violate the commitment would be subject to Federal Trade Commission enforcement, the White House said.

The FTC's job is to promote consumer protection and to eliminate or prevent what regulators perceive as harmfully anti-competitive business practices.

Until now, Web sites have not been required to comply with do not track requests, and very few Web sites have recognized and respected this privacy signal, industry officials say. The White House said Thursday companies that deliver nearly 90 percent of online behavioral advertisements -- including Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc., Microsoft Corp. and AOL Inc. -- have agreed to comply when consumers choose to control tracking of their Internet habits.

The advertising industry agreed not to release consumer browsing information to companies that might use it for purposes other than advertising, such as employers making hiring decisions or insurers determining coverage, the White House said.

"As the Internet evolves, consumer trust is essential for the continued growth of the digital economy," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "That's why an online privacy Bill of Rights is so important."

The rights the White House outlined Thursday include:

-- Individual control, where consumers have a right to control what personal data organizations collect from them and how it will be used.

-- Transparency, where consumers have a right to receive easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.

-- Respect for context, where consumers have a right to expect organizations will collect, use and disclose personal data in ways consistent with the context in which the consumers provided the data.

-- Security, where consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.

-- Access and accuracy, where consumers have a right to review and correct personal information in ways that are "appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate."

-- Focused collection, where consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.

-- Accountability, where companies have a responsibility to have appropriate measures in place to ensure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

"For businesses to succeed online, consumers must feel secure," Obama said. "By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policymakers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth."

U.S. online retail sales have grown ten-fold, to nearly $200 billion from about $20 billion in 2001, Commerce Secretary John Bryson said.

The Bill of Rights is a key element of a White House report, titled "Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World," that also includes what the White House called "a stakeholder-driven process to specify how these rights apply in particular business contexts" and "greater interoperability between the United States' privacy framework and those of our international partners."

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