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The Obama administration is set to today announce a new bill which would prevent sites like Facebook from selling your personal information to advertisers without express permission.  (Source: Sandusky Register)

The bill is expected to be co-sponsored by U.S. Senators John McCain and John Kerry, two D.C. veterans from opposite sides of the political aisle.  (Source: MentalFloss)
Internet rights measure enjoys bipartisan support

It looks like Senate Democrats and Republicans may finally have found something they can agree on -- limiting the data collection abilities of internet marketing firms.  

The Obama administration, according to The Wall Street Journal, is expected to announce to Congress today an internet privacy bill that will force some data miners to make major changes.  Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.) was a critical opponent of net neutrality, but he was actually a sponsor of the draft of the privacy bill, along with a fellow Presidential runner-up, Sen. John Kerry (D, Mass.).

The bill looks to expand the powers of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, giving it the ability to enforce the new provisions.  The proposal follows a December U.S. Department of Commerce report [PDF], which complained that Facebook, Google, and a host of smaller firms weren't up front with customers about what information they were collecting and sharing with advertisers.

Dubbed an online "Privacy Bill of Rights", the measure would prevent information from being used for any purpose other than collected, unless you give them permission.  In other words, if you fill out a registration form for the website, they will no longer legally be able to sell that information to advertisers, unless they ask you if it's okay.  

The more complex half of the provision is that users would have the right to access information stored about them and that internet firms would have to store the information in a secure way.  This could pose problematic to enforce as many websites don't have means of viewing your full registration data and would have to be modified to be able to provide it.

It's also unclear just how much information display will be required.  While many sites do offer users the ability to review their registrations info, almost no sites display the information collected by browser cookies -- such as the user's visited sites, location, and internet address.  How exactly this information would be shared with users is uncertain.

Interestingly, 30 online advertising companies including Exponential Interactive Inc., Burst Media Corp., Audience Science Inc., Casale Media Inc. and Specific Media LLC are looking to proactively create a tool to allow users to opt out of tracking.  They are in talks with browser makers to add a checkbox option to one of their menus to "turn off" data collection.  

It's hard to say why exactly they are doing this.  One possibility is that they hope that giving the tool will satisfy the more outraged members of the public, while being overlooked/left unused by the apathetic majority.

Still, the proposal faces a great deal of resistance from other online data-mining firms.  They claim they don't know how to collect do-not-request from the browser.  They instead have argued consumers should use no-tracking browser extensions, such as TACO and NoScript in Firefox.  The largest consumer browser, though -- Internet Explorer -- still lacks such extensions. 

The larger group of internet firms has also been testing a button inside ads, which allows users to know they're being targeted (based on information collected by cookies, bought from sites, etc.).  Clicking on the button would allow customers to opt out of dozens of companies' networks.

The Obama administration has a curious track record on privacy.  While it has been a firm proponent of preserving privacy in the commercial sector, it has pushed for increased monitoring and spying on citizens by the government.  It has also pushed for an international treaty called ACTA, which would order federal agents to monitor U.S. internet networks for copyright infringement, at the taxpayers' expense.

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By FITCamaro on 3/16/2011 10:41:46 AM , Rating: 5
the measure would prevent information from being used for any purpose other than collected, unless you give them permission.

This is already the case. There is a terms of use for every site out there. Same with when you fill out information for something.

The fact that people don't read it doesn't change this. This is nothing but another bill to abdicate responsibility from the individual and give it to a government employee.

RE: Stupid
By JasonMick on 3/16/2011 10:58:28 AM , Rating: 2
This is already the case.

Really? I'm not sure about that. What law states that? There's no federal law that I know of that prevents that sale.

There is a terms of use for every site out there. Same with when you fill out information for something.

Some sites have these terms... others don't... and if you read even many legitimate/large websites' terms carefully, they have a lot of legal "weasel words" as my paralegal friends say, which make it ambiguous whether they can sell parts of your personal info for profit, without explicit permission.

And you're forgetting entirely the idea of browser cookies. Virtually no site "asks" for permission for the data collected by its cookies.

The fact that people don't read it doesn't change this. This is nothing but another bill to abdicate responsibility from the individual and give it to a government employee.

If the existing law is clear enough, I'd agree with you, but I'm not sure if it is. Ultimately from a personal perspective I'm not sure if it should be the gov't's job to regulate this (as obviously the free market is self-regulating it via browser extensions, etc.), but I would prefer a clearly defined law to an ambiguous one. Of course given that the text of the bill hasn't aired, this bill may be equally bad in terms of ambiguity.

The problem I see is that it would be really hard (and expensive) for the U.S. federal gov't to monitor if sites are collecting/selling user information.

RE: Stupid
By tastyratz on 3/16/2011 11:26:03 AM , Rating: 2
I agree,
I think the biggest provision required for this to work here is a non participation clause in the tos agreement because you are essentially waiving your rights with sites that have terms of service covering your privacy (and lack there of). I would like to see this require full disclosure as well as separation from any standard terms of service. I do not want to be required to opt in for a site nor opt in through the same checkbox I use to agree to the terms.

RE: Stupid
By FITCamaro on 3/16/2011 12:27:00 PM , Rating: 5
If someone is uncomfortable with what a site collects or whatever, don't go to the site. Regardless of whether its 100% spelled out.

You start cutting out a lot of that, and a lot of sites will disappear because they make their money from gathering data for their own use or to sell. I view it as advertising. I have no illusions that website hosting, development, etc is free.

Just because people are ignorant and the media tries to play it up as "OMGZ THEY'RE STEALIN UR INFORMATIONZ!!!" doesn't mean we need a federal agency overseeing it.

RE: Stupid
By Samus on 3/16/2011 1:39:10 PM , Rating: 2
This will also additionally protect people from spyware.

RE: Stupid
By FITCamaro on 3/16/2011 3:21:27 PM , Rating: 5
The term "spyware" is extremely vague.

Some consider a cookie from a site that tracks what you look at on that site as spyware.

To me spyware is software that has the malicious intent of stealing your private information. It is already illegal and no new federal organization is going to stop it. Perhaps make them do a little more work. But its no different than banning guns for law abiding citizens to keep them out of the hands of criminals.

I personally take responsibility for what I do online and the impacts it has. As should everyone. If you choose to be too lazy or ignorant, that's your problem.

RE: Stupid
By FITCamaro on 3/16/2011 3:26:42 PM , Rating: 4
And the main point is that all this will do is spend tens of millions of tax payer dollars just so some government bureaucrat can say to the ignorant masses "You are now safe. Trust us." Same as putting a tire pressure sensor on a car. It just means people will assume everything is fine until their tire blows out one day. Then they discover that, low and behold, the tire pressure sensor can fail eventually.

When in reality, you just made those who are truly trying to steal information do a little work to get around whatever is imposed by the government.

RE: Stupid
By The Raven on 3/16/2011 2:11:38 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. As with many of the things the gov't does, if you take the responsibility for the consumer to protect themselves, then the gov't needs to expand to protect the consumer. Then we need elections to determine how that protection is handled and half of the population won't be happy with that and the gov't will be blamed lol. What is the point of that? Also, private security firms end up going Ts up because their sector ends up being taken over by the gov't.

Not to mention the huge branch of unnecessary law that this will spawn. If you are getting by without a lawyer now, pretty soon you'll need one lol.

RE: Stupid
By tdawg on 3/16/2011 3:26:39 PM , Rating: 2
What about sites like ESPN or Fox Sports? If they can be made to clearly define what data they're mining from my visits and I get to decide who they can and cannot give that information to, all while making even more secure for me to visit the site, I'm all for it.

I'm not going to rely on Bob's Home Sports Report website simply because his doesn't have people to sell data to; I'm going to go to an authority and right now an unfortunate side-effect may be that these authoritative sites take some advantage of the information they may or may not collect to increase their revenue.

RE: Stupid
By FITCamaro on 3/16/2011 3:29:50 PM , Rating: 2
We don't need a government organization to enforce having to spell out what kinds of information is gathered. Consumers will do that.

RE: Stupid
By YashBudini on 3/17/2011 2:07:42 PM , Rating: 2
Looking at the article that addresses how people don't understand how hybrids work (and even ARMs which is far more important) one has to ask, "Are you talking about these same people?"

Add to that who's to say exactly what a cookie does? It's not a billboard of honesty, is it?

Most are not a threat? Who's addressing "most?"

RE: Stupid
By JasonMick on 3/16/2011 3:48:13 PM , Rating: 2
Just because people are ignorant and the media tries to play it up as "OMGZ THEY'RE STEALIN UR INFORMATIONZ!!!" doesn't mean we need a federal agency overseeing it.

Oh no, I agree with your conclusion that this isn't the time for the government to hold your hand and tell you what to do (at your taxpaying expense).

It just seemed like you were inferring that this was covered by current laws, which I believed to be incorrect.

Currently it's visitor beware when it comes to the web, but you can easily download a modern browser like Firefox, Chrome, or Opera for complete protections.

You're only in trouble if you use a browser with less privacy protections like Internet Explorer or Safari. And with legitimate sites the most "trouble" you'd be in is that some advertisers might get your personal data (oh noes!).

Funny, we seem to be agreeing more these days... :)

RE: Stupid
By icemansims on 3/16/2011 12:16:49 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, this is a restriction of terms of use. Right now, companies dictate terms of use of your information. If you don't agree, you can't use the website or tool or whatever. This law allows the consumer to use the tools without having to give up their privacy.

RE: Stupid
By FITCamaro on 3/16/2011 12:28:36 PM , Rating: 1
Because people have a right to others property huh?

RE: Stupid
By Arsynic on 3/16/2011 12:40:18 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. And this is just a stepping stone to insert the government into Internet affairs. Next thing you'll know, they'll be making more stringent rules until the Internet is like public broadcasting. Soon we'll be paying a Federal Internet Tax. Hell, we might already be paying that (haven't checked my bill lately).

RE: Stupid
By therealnickdanger on 3/16/2011 1:18:47 PM , Rating: 2
"The Internet has been an incredible force for good since its inception. This must be stopped. Begin the legislation!"
-Random Fed

C'mon, leave the Internet alone. Let it remain in its "Wild West" self!

"Well, there may be a reason why they call them 'Mac' trucks! Windows machines will not be trucks." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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