Update on Do Not Track; Mozilla, Google Take Action

Do-Not-Track Proposal Update: Mozilla and Google Respond

First, some background. On Dec. 1, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) “issued a preliminary staff report that proposes a framework to balance the privacy interests of consumers with innovation that relies on consumer information to develop beneficial new products and services.”The report also called for a Do Not Track mechanism on consumers’ browsers.

“Technological and business ingenuity have spawned a whole new online culture and vocabulary—email, IMs, apps and blogs—that consumers have come to expect and enjoy,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “The FTC wants to help ensure that the growing, changing, thriving information marketplace is built on a framework that promotes privacy, transparency, business innovation and consumer choice. We believe that’s what most Americans want as well.”

The FTC wrote that self-regulation has been “too slow” in this area. “This proposal is intended to inform policymakers, including Congress, as they develop solutions, policies, and potential laws governing privacy, and guide and motivate industry as it develops more robust and effective best practices and self-regulatory guidelines,” according to the report, which is titled, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: A Proposed Framework for Businesses and Policymakers.”

Then a month later, Rose Gordon of Direct Marketing News wrote a story saying that marketers “reacted with weariness” to this proposal. “I think the aspiration of getting to these goals is good, but the simplistic solution of an on-off switch will enormously disrupt the consumer experience with their favorite vendors,” Gordon quoted Monica Luechtefeld, the global head of e-commerce at Office Depot. “It would take us back to five years ago and make the experience far less personal.”

Linda Woolley, EVP of government affairs at DMA, disagreed “that self-regulation is not working.” The DM News article says that a self-regulatory program was introduced in October “that encouraged businesses to add an advertising opt-out icon to their websites. The Advertising Option Icon program also allows consumers to opt-out of tracking.” Then this past Tuesday, Vicki Powers also of DM News reported that Mozilla and Google “will provide options in their respective Firefox and Chrome Web browsers to block the tracking of consumers’ online behavior.” For Mozilla, it will be in the next browser update, Firefox 4.

“…we are proposing a feature that allows users to set a browser preference that will broadcast their desire to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking by transmitting a Do Not Track HTTP header with every click or page view in Firefox,” wrote Alexander (Alex) Fowler, Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader at Mozilla, on his blog. “The Do Not Track header builds on the work the advertising networks have done to date without the cookie-based systems they make available to people online…We believe the HTTP header is a constructive approach and one of the many areas we’re exploring to put users in control of their web experience.”

Google’s new feature is called “Keep My Opt-Outs” and, according to the Google Public Policy Blog, it “enables you to opt out permanently from ad tracking cookies…” Interesting that they put the following disclaimer on: “Keep in mind that once you install the…extension, your experience of online ads may change: You may see the same ads repeatedly on particular websites, or see ads that are less relevant to you.”

“The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) and AboutAds.info already offer a centralized website for managing opt-outs,” said Christine Chen, senior manager of global communications and public affairs at Google, in DM News. “We’re building on that work by offering an extension that makes the opt-outs permanent, even if you clear your cookies.” An SVP at the Interactive Advertising Bureau said the Google technology is industry supported and more practical, and thus more effective.

SIPA will continue to monitor how this situation plays out and how it affects you.

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