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Internet 'Do Not Track' Bill Introduced In Congress

Proposed legislation is designed to protect Web users' privacy, prevent advertisers from monitoring online usage.

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An Internet version of the popular "Do Not Call" telephone legislation took a step toward reality on Friday, when a California Democrat introduced legislation in Congress designed to let consumers block unwanted tracking of their information online.

Written by Rep. Jackie Speier, the "Do Not Track Me Online" bill authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to enact and enforce regulations that give consumers the right to bar organizations from tracking their activities as they use the Internet. Under the "Do Not Call" legislation, most advertisers were prevented from calling people who proactively signed up on a list of consumers who requested not to receive telemarketers' phone calls. Speier introduced a companion bill, the Financial Information Privacy Act, to allow consumers to control the sharing of their financial information.

"These two bills send a clear message -- privacy over profit," Speier said, in a statement. "Consumers have a right to determine what if any of their information is shared with big corporations and the federal government must have the authority and tools to enforce reasonable protections."

Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit and non-partisan advocacy group, praised the proposed law.

"Consumers should have the right to choose if their private information -- from shoe size, to health concerns, to religious beliefs -- is collected, analyzed, and profiled by companies tracking activities online. Do Not Track is the simple way for consumers to say 'no thanks' to being monitored while they surf the Web," said Carmen Balber, Washington director for Consumer Watchdog, in a statement.

Many Americans have concerns about online privacy, according to a Consumer Watchdog study, conducted in summer 2010 of 1,000 likely general election voters. At that time, Google made international headlines, as governments in countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany, as well as in a number of states such as Connecticut, scrutinized the company's collection of personal information using its Street View cars.

While Google received an overall 74% favorable rating, nearly two-thirds of those polled (65%) say the so-called Wi-Spy scandal is one of the things that "worries them most" or a "great deal," with another 20% saying it "raises some concern" when considering Internet issues, found the study.

In October 2010, Facebook and MySpace came under fire when the Wall Street Journal discovered many of the social media sites' gaming partners were sharing user information with advertisers. Last Thursday, Google published in Europe a filing for a social networking facial-recognition patent, InformationWeek reported Monday.

"Right now much of the online advertising market is based on unauthorized spying on consumers," said John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Inside Google Project, in a statement. "A Do Not Track mechanism would give consumers better control of their information and help restore their confidence in the Internet. That's a win-win for consumers and business. What kind of lasting business can be built on snooping on your customers?"

In the Consumer Watchdog poll, 90% of respondents support the concept of creating more laws to protect the privacy of personal information. Of those, 67% said it is "very important" to do so, the study said. Of those surveyed, 86% favored a "make me anonymous" button and 84% liked a rule that prevented online companies from tracking personal data or Web searches without users' explicit, written approval, the study found.

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