U.S. House to hold online privacy hearings on “Do-Not-Track” legislation

Yesterday, the FTC online privacy report endorsed a “do not track” mechanism for Web browsers. This morning, the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection in the United States House of Representatives will hold a hearing on “Do-Not-Track” legislation. The hearing will e”xamine the feasibility of establishing a mechanism that provides Internet users a simple and universal method to opt-out from having their online activity tracked by data-gathering firms (a.k.a. a ‘Do Not Track List’).”

A livestream of the hearing is available, along with testimony:

The subcommittee has posted a memo that sets the stage for the hearing, which is embedded below. Notably, the document heavily references the Wall Street Journal’s excellent “What Do They Know?” series on digital privacy.

In the Internet age, each keystroke or click of a mouse can betray the most mundane or even sensitive details of our lives, and those details are being collected and packaged into profiles by a data-gathering industry with an increasing hunger for information that can be sold and used to target consumers based on their tastes, needs, and even perceived desirability. Many Americans don’t know that the details of their online lives are being gobbled up and used in this way, much less how to stop it in the event that such collection offends their expectations of privacy.

This summer, the Wall Street Journal began reporting about the online gathering of information about Internet users in an ongoing investigative series called “What They Know.” For its first piece, the Journal uncovered the extent to which Internet users’ activity is being tracked. The Journal found that visiting the top 50 most popular websites in the U.S. resulted in the placement on a single test computer of 2,224 files by 131 companies that track Internet users’ activity across the Internet. In addition, not only is tracking of Internet users pervasive, but it has become more invasive through the use by some in the tracking industry of more sophisticated technologies that can keep tabs on an Internet users activity on a website (rather than collecting just the fact that the website was visited) and some can even re-spawn themselves if an Internet user tries to delete them.

If you haven’t read the series, take some time over the weekend or holiday. And if you’re interested in what the federal government is considering in the context of digital privacy, tune in to the livestream and follow the #DNTrack hashtag on Twitter for the live backchannel.

DNTrack House Briefing memo.12.01

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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