In the latest sign that some in Congress are at least considering whether to back the idea, the House subcommittee for commerce, trade, and consumer protection has convened a hearing about online privacy at which it will explore do-not-track, according to The Washington Post. The hearing is tentatively slated for Dec. 2.
Privacy advocates first proposed the idea of a universal do-not-track registry in late 2007, as the Federal Trade Commission was gearing up to hold hearings about privacy.
Since then, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz told Congress that the agency was considering proposing a do-not-track mechanism that would allow consumers to opt out of all behavioral advertising. Commissioner Julie Brill said last month that she personally supports the creation of such a registry.
Unlike the do-not-call registry, do-not-track wouldn't stop companies from delivering online ads to people, but would prevent companies from sending behaviorally targeted ads, based on sites visited, to users who demonstrate that they don't wish to be tracked.
Industry reaction to the prospect of a universal do-not-track mechanism has been fairly negative -- even though any mechanism probably wouldn't be all that different from opt-out link currently offered by the Network Advertising Initiative. In fact, the most significant difference might be that the NAI includes only a limited number of companies, but a do-not-track registry would presumably be universal. Even so, without legislation, there's no guarantee that companies would voluntarily honor a do-not-track registry -- just as there's no guarantee that Web companies would follow self-regulatory principles.
Meanwhile the Commerce Department is gearing up to recommend new "baseline" legislation drawn from Fair Information Practice principles, according to a draft of the 54-page report obtained by Telecom Reports Daily and posted by the law firm Hogan Lovells.
Fair information principles generally require that people be notified about data collection and given the opportunity to consent. The principles also include limits on how companies' collection and use of data. For instance, the principles call on companies to collect only what is necessary and to use data for only the purpose for which it was collected.
The Center for Democracy & Technology, for one, has argued that privacy laws should incorporate such principles.
Commerce will also call for a new federal privacy office, but doesn't recommend giving the office enforcement authority. Instead, the office "would work with the FTC in leading efforts to develop voluntary but enforceable codes of conduct."
Companies that adhere to those voluntary principles would be given safe harbor protection, according TR Daily's summary of the report.