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'