Rockefeller Re-Introduces Do Not Track Bill

Rockefeller-A3The head of the Senate Commerce Committee has reintroduced a bill that would prohibit online companies and app developers from collecting "personal information" from consumers who activate a do-not-track mechanism.

The Do Not Track Online Act of 2013, dropped on Thursday by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), directs the Federal Trade Commission to develop regulations to implement a do-not-track tool. The FTC and state attorneys general would be able to enforce the measure, which calls for penalties of up to $15 million.

"Online companies are collecting massive amounts of information, often without consumers’ knowledge or consent," Rockefeller stated. "Consumers should be empowered to make their own decision about whether their information can be tracked and used online." 

The measure also tasks the FTC with defining "personal information," elaborating that the agency should evaluate whether data can be "reasonably linked or identified with a person or device, both on its own and in combination with other information."

Rockefeller unsuccessfully introduced the same bill in 2011. The lawmaker indicated on Thursday that he is pushing the measure for a second time because the ad industry doesn't yet honor browser-based do-not-track headers -- although it promised last year to do so. "Industry stood at the White House and made a public pledge to honor do-not-track requests, but has since failed to live up to that commitment," Rockefeller stated.

But Stu Ingis, counsel to the self-regulatory group Digital Advertising Alliance, says the industry says it already honors opt-out requests when consumers click on opt-out links, such as the one available through AboutAds.info. "We actually delivered a program -- that is followed by the entire industry -- that does exactly what his bill asks for," Ingis says.

The DAA said last year that it intended to require members to honor browser-based do-not-track signals, provided that consumers activated them. Since then, however, privacy advocates, industry representatives and computer engineers have been unable to agree on how to interpret those browser-based requests.

Browser-based signals are seen as more permanent than the cookie-based opt-out links available on sites like AboutAds.info. That's because some privacy-conscious consumers erase their cookies, which results in the deletion of their opt-out preferences.

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