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Internet tracking bill goes before committee

May 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tracking your every move on the Internet: It could easily be happening without your knowledge. A bill is now under consideration in Sacramento that would give you the right to block Internet tracking.

A "Do Not Track" bill has stalled at the federal level, and California may be leading the way on Internet privacy issues.

Whether you're on the Internet by computer or by smartphone, companies are collecting bits of information about you, like where you've been, what you're buying, and then selling that data often without your knowledge.

"I want what I do to be private," said Internet user Courtney Vasquez. "If I want to share that information with you, I'll tell you. But to have companies do it and you don't even know, it's a little scary."

The State Senate Judiciary Committee took a big step in protecting Californians' online privacy by approving a first-in-the-nation "Do Not Track" proposal requiring a simple opt-out feature on search engines to tell website operators you don't want your online habits monitored.

The vote puts California in the forefront of the fight for more Internet privacy and allows consumers to sue companies for violations.

"Tracking technology is getting smarter and more intrusive," said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

But TechNet, which represents some of the biggest Internet giants in the country, thinks the opt-out mandate hurts the fastest growing part of the California economy.

The trade group says data-collecting allows companies to target advertising to specific users, and a do-not-track restriction could mean a multi-billion-dollar hit.

"We believe this bill, SB 761, is the equivalent of Texas stopping the oil industry. California's tech industry is of equal importance," said TechNet spokesman Fred Main.

Consumer groups point out the Do Not Call law did not bring down the telemarketing industry, and that it's time to stop unauthorized tracking.

"It's a bill that will finally get our privacy rights into the digital age," said John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project. "We have a constitutional right to privacy in this state. But the law hasn't kept pace with what's going on on the Internet."

Three of the four major Web browsing companies have, or are about to offer, an opt-out feature on their products. But it's voluntary, dependent on the good will of the tracking companies.

Lowenthal says he's ready to work with the technology industry to address their fears.