Chairman: FTC Leans Toward 'Do Not Track' Registry

Legislation Unlikely, but Urges Industry to Offer Consumers Clear Choice

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WASHINGTON ( -- The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission told a Senate committee today that the FTC is considering recommending a "do not track" registry akin to the "do not call" registry that could give consumers the choice of opting out of behavioral tracking as part of a fall report on privacy.

Jon Leibowitz
Jon Leibowitz
"I think we are gravitating to an opt-out of behavioral targeting [for multiple sites] through a single entity," Chairman Jon Leibowitz told members of the Senate Commerce Committee. He said that unlike the "do not call," the opt-out likely wouldn't be used by internet users, but the availability of the choice would offer reassurance. He stopped short, however, of suggesting legislation.

But some politicians seem increasingly worried about business practices that are prompting calls from constituents. Mr. Leibowitz's comments came as senators from both parties expressed strong concerns to regulatory officials and officials of Apple, Facebook, AT&T and Google about behavioral targeting and suggested that the government may need to step in if the industry doesn't make profiling far more transparent and controllable.

"I understand that advertising supports the internet, but I am a little spooked out," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., speaking of behavioral targeting. "This is creepy."

She described herself as feeling as if she were being "followed around."

Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., also expressed concern.

"We have a duty to ask whether ... millions of Americans ... fully understand and appreciate what information is being collected from them and whether or not they are empowered to stop certain practices from taking place," said Mr. Rockefeller.

Mr. Dorgan said while "it is the case that advertising supports the internet and advertising can help the customer, it's also the case that advertising has trackers or snoopers. If someone followed you taking notes, anyone would find that as unbelievable. Yet that is happening every day on the internet."

Officials of Apple, AT&T, Google and Facebook defended their privacy policies, saying they had taken numerous steps to update and make them clearer and safeguards were in place to protect information.

"We do not sell our users personal information," said Alma Whitten, privacy engineering lead at Google.

Still, they also conceded that some of the consumers' fears about behavioral tracking comes from industry's not doing enough to explain what is taking place. "We have to demystify it and make it less creepy," said Dorothy Attwood, senior VP, public policy and chief privacy officer at AT&T.

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