Advocates Seek Lame-Duck Vote On Bill That Would Ban Behavioral Targeting

Consumer advocacy groups are renewing their call for the House of Representatives to vote this month on a sweeping privacy bill that would outlaw a common form of online ad targeting.

“The time is now to pass a comprehensive federal privacy law,” 23 organizations including the Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Privacy Information Center and Public Knowledge say in a letter sent Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).

They are seeking a floor vote on the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, a bipartisan bill that would impose numerous restrictions on data use and collection -- including a ban on the collection or processing of data about web users' cross-site activity for ad purposes. That ban would effectively prevent companies from serving ads to people based on their online browsing activity.

Other provisions would allow companies to continue to draw on data collected from their own sites in order to serve targeted ads to adults, but on an opt-out basis. The measure would also prohibit companies from serving targeted ads to children or teens younger than 17.

The bill would override many state laws, including the bulk of California's landmark privacy law.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced the bipartisan bill earlier this year by a vote of 53-2.

The ad industry opposes the bill, arguing that the measure would stifle the “data-driven economy” by “prohibiting the collection and use of basic demographic and online activity data for efficient, responsible advertising.”

Pelosi has indicated she will not support the bill in its current form, due to the provisions that would render California's law unenforceable.

The advocacy groups supporting the bill counter that bringing it to a vote wouldn't prevent sponsors from strengthening it.

“There is a narrow window in which to act,” the groups tell Pelosi, writing that the proposed law would “usher in real meaningful privacy protections for all consumers.”

Even if the House passes the bill before the end of this year, proponents appear to face an uphill battle in the Senate, where no committees have held hearings on the bill. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), head of the Commerce Committee, reportedly has said she doesn't believe the bill is stringent enough.

Despite the apparent odds against Senate passage, the advocacy group Public Knowledge says a House vote in favor of the measure could help build momentum in the Senate.

“We believe that if a House vote happened, it would be overwhelmingly bipartisan,” Public Knowledge senior policy counsel Sara Collins tells MediaPost. “Having that on record could change the calculation in the Senate.”

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