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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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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?"

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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