FTC online privacy report endorses “Do-Not-Track” mechanism for Web browsers

The Federal Trade Commission released an online privacy report today that will reshape how companies, consumers and businesses interact on the Internet. The agency will take questions from reporters at 1 PM EST and from the public on Twitter in its first Twitter chat at 3 PM EST. The recommendation that “companies should adopt a ‘privacy by design’ approach by building privacy protections into their everyday business practices” is a key direction to every startup or Global 1000 corporation that comes under the FTC’s purview as the nation’s top consumer protection regulator.

The new FTC privacy report proposes a framework that would “balance the privacy interests of consumers with innovation that relies on consumer information to develop beneficial new products and services,” according to the agency’s statement, and recommends the implementation of a “Do Not Track” mechanism, which the agency describes as “a persistent setting on consumers’ browsers – so consumers can choose whether to allow the collection of data regarding their online searching and browsing activities.”

“Technological and business ingenuity have spawned a whole new online culture and vocabulary – email, IMs, apps and blogs – that consumers have come to expect and enjoy. The FTC wants to help ensure that the growing, changing, thriving information marketplace is built on a framework that promotes privacy, transparency, business innovation and consumer choice. We believe that’s what most Americans want as well,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

The report states that industry efforts to address privacy through self-regulation “have been too slow, and up to now have failed to provide adequate and meaningful protection.” The framework outlined in the report is designed to reduce the burdens on consumers and businesses.

“This proposal is intended to inform policymakers, including Congress, as they develop solutions, policies, and potential laws governing privacy, and guide and motivate industry as it develops more robust and effective best practices and self-regulatory guidelines,” according to the report, which is titled, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers.”

“Self-regulation has not kept pace with technology,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, speaking this morning about the proposed online privacy rules. “We have to simplify consumer choice and ‘do not track’ will achieve that goal,” he said. “I don’t think that under the FTC authority we could unilaterally mandate ‘do not track.'”

One of the nation’s top technology policy advocates approved. “The FTC report hits all the right notes. It sets out a modern and forward looking framework for privacy protection that moves beyond a narrow focus on notice and choice toward a full set of fair information practices and accountability measures,” said Center for Democracy and Technology president Leslie Harris. “The FTC has provided the blueprint. Now it is time for Congress and industry to follow suit.”

“We are very pleased to see the FTC exerting strong leadership on privacy,” said CDT Privacy Project Director Justin Brookman. “This report should bolster efforts to enact a privacy bill next Congress. Its recommendations are consistent with what is being discussed on the Hill.”

In a novel move, the FTC tweeted out “key points” from the report, embedded below, using @FTCGov.

“FTC proposes new framework 2 guide policymakers & industry as they develop legislation & other solutions. Self-regulation on privacy has been too slow. Important privacy choices should be presented in relevant context, not buried in privacy policy. Baseline protections of FTC’s proposed framework include reasonable security & accuracy, confidence that data collected or kept only 4 legitimate needs & privacy considered at every stage of product development. Privacy notices should be clearer, shorter & more standardized to better understand privacy practices & promote accountability. Consumers should have reasonable access to data upon request. Commission supports a more uniform mechanism for behavioral advertising: a so-called “Do Not Track”. Do Not Track could signal consumer’s choices about being tracked & receiving targeted ads.”

Below are the prepared remarks of the FTC chairman, followed by a liveblog of the press call. Audio of the FTC online privacy press call is available as an MP3.

FTC Chairman Privacy Report Remarks

FTC Online Privacy Report

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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