Two lawmakers are asking the Internet standards group World Wide Web Consortium to specify that online companies should stop gathering information from users with a do-not-track header activated on their browsers.
"We agree with those worldwide who have repeatedly insisted that users should have control over both the collection and the use of their personal data," Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), say in a letter sent on Tuesday to the W3C's tracking protection working group. "In our view, Do Not Track should encompass non-targeted advertising along with not accumulating, using, sharing, or selling the consumer's personal data."
The lawmakers' letter comes one day before the World Wide Web Consortium's three-day meeting aimed at creating standards for browser-based do-not-track headers.
The project has its origins in a December 2010 Federal Trade Commission report that called on Web companies to devise a way for consumers to easily opt out of all online behavioral advertising. Browser developers responded by offering do-not-track headers that users could activate. Those headers send a do-not-track signal to Web companies, but the companies do not need to respect the signal.
The W3C, a voluntary group that includes industry representatives as well as privacy advocates, has been trying to craft a consensus about how to interpret the do-not-track signal. One unresolved issue centers on whether a do-not-track signal should be interpreted as do-not-target or do-not-collect-data.
For many years, the ad industry has taken the position that Web companies should stop serving targeted ads to users who opt out of online behavioral targeting, but can continue to collect information used for market research or analytics.
But some privacy advocates say the browser-based do-not-track signal should also require ad networks and other companies to stop collecting most types of data from users. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz also recently said that Web companies generally should not collect information from users with a do-not-track signal, but that there might be exceptions for purposes like fraud prevention and frequency capping.
Currently, W3C members are divided on the question.
The groups expected to tackle questions surrounding default settings on browsers. Microsoft recently said that its next version of Internet Explorer would include a do-not-track setting turned "on" by default.
Two weeks ago, some members of the W3C said in a conference call that do-not-track should not be enabled automatically, but the group hasn't yet issued final standards.
However, observers expect that the standards group will say that do-not-track commands must be activated by users -- which could force Microsoft to back away from its plan.
For their part, Markey and Barton said today that they think "browsers that default to Do Not Track provide consumers with better control and choice with respect to their personal information."