“Consumers must be told who is collecting their data and what the data will be used for. And choice mechanisms must be simple and easy-to-use,” Ramirez said this week in a speech given at the Tech Policy Institute Aspen Forum. “To that end, in the context of the collection of data that occurs as consumers surf the web, we need a workable Do Not Track option that will put consumers back in control over the collection of their information.”
In her speech, Ramirez also urged companies to think twice before scooping up all available data about consumers. “Some big data proponents argue that data is now the raw material of innovation, and therefore more data is always better,” she said, adding that she disagrees with that view. “The indiscriminate collection of data violates the First Commandment of data hygiene: Thou shall not collect and hold onto personal information unnecessary to an identified purpose. Keeping data on the off-chance that it might prove useful is not consistent with privacy best practices.”
It's significant that Ramirez is discussing data collection -- and taking the position that consumers should be able to prevent it -- given the disagreement between privacy advocates and industry representatives about that point. Advocates say that consumers should be able to keep data about themselves from being collected. But industry groups say that they need to continue to gather data about consumers' Web activity for market research and analytics -- regardless of consumers' preferences.
This isn't the first time the FTC has called for a do-not-track mechanism, or for the industry to stop collecting data from consumers who don't want to be tracked. To date, however, efforts to implement a do-not-track system haven't gotten very far.
Even though every major browser company offers a do-not-track setting, ad companies by and large ignore them. Just today, the ad serving company Trueffect announced that it would no longer honor browser-based do-not-track signals. Trueffect says that around 20% of people it encounters now have do-not-track turned on, largely due to Microsoft's decision to turn on the signals by default.