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'Do Not Track' tool proposed for Web users

December 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
If you're happy the Do Not Call Registry has eliminated most of those annoying telemarketing calls, then you may be glad to hear the Federal Trade Commission would like a "Do Not Track" tool to prevent marketers from tracking your web browsing habits.Right now it's just a proposal by the FTC, but if it were to happen, it would certainly increase your privacy online and it might save you some money, too.

While you're online doing your holiday shopping, chances are someone is watching your every move on the Internet. In fact, marketers track you so they can target their advertising or even adjust their prices.

Preston McAfee, Yahoo's chief economist, says airlines are a good example.

"Today they can actually count every time any particular flight is looked at by a customer," said McAfee.

If businesses like airlines can manipulate their prices while you search online, you could end up paying more than the next person for the very same seat or anything for that matter.

So the FTC is proposing a Do Not Track tool for the Internet that would prevent that from happening.

Protecting consumer privacy, the agency says, is critical since marketers - particularly online marketers - are increasingly analyzing the websites that consumers visit, the links they click, Internet searches, online and offline purchases, the physical locations of wireless devices and all sorts of personal information disclosed on social networking sites.

So far, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said Wednesday, the marketing industry has not done nearly enough to ensure that consumers understand what personal information is being collected about them or to give them adequate control over that data collection.

The agency envisions a Do Not Track tool as one important way to let consumers decline, or "opt out" of, much of the tracking that occurs online - a practice the industry calls behavioral advertising. The tool would most likely take the form of a browser setting that would apply across the board as consumers jump from site to site. It would clearly inform sites when tracking and targeted advertising are off limits for a particular browser.

The concept is similar to the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry that limits robocalls and telemarketers from calling you at home.

Violating the Do Not Call Registry subjects telemarketers to civil penalties up to $16,000 per violation. There's no word yet on if there would be similar penalties for the Do Not Track proposal.

Part of the proposal would also limit tracking the physical location of your cell phone and other wireless devices.

The Do Not Track tool is just one of a series of recommendations by the FTC to protect your privacy. In fact, the FTC has limited authority to write the rules itself, so new regulations would likely require congressional action.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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