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Consumer Watchdog unveils 'Do Not Track Me' plan

Posted: April 5, 2011 3:31 p.m.
Updated: April 6, 2011 12:30 p.m.

Sacramento -- Consumer Watchdog unveiled a new landmark California legislation to allow consumers in the state to stop unwanted online tracking and challenged Google CEO Larry Page, during his first day on the job, to support the "Do Not Track Me" plan and demonstrate Google is moving in a new direction.

The bill, SB761, was introduced by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and is sponsored by Consumer Watchdog.

In a letter to Page Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and John M. Simpson, the director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group's Privacy Project, wrote:

"Eric Schmidt's tenure as CEO was marked by a series of privacy gaffes. We hope yours will begin with a landmark endorsement of a new privacy right for consumers online that shows freedom of information and personal privacy are not incompatible.

"As you are aware, online commerce relies on consumer trust. Sadly, much of the current Internet business model is based on invasive and pervasive tracking of consumers' online activities without their knowledge or control.

"This should not be the business model of a company whose motto is 'Don't Be Evil,'" the letter continues. "Do Not Track legislation would give consumers meaningful protection and control. It would build their confidence in the Internet -- a win-win situation for business and consumer."

Read Consumer Watchdog's letter here (PDF).

"Today we are unveiling California legislation with Senator Allen Lowenthal to give every Californian the choice not to be tracked online," wrote Court and Simpson. "We call upon you to support SB 761 as a sign of Google's commitment to the privacy of consumers and to set a gold standard for the Internet."

One of the most powerful tools available to protect consumers' privacy is the "Do Not Track Me" mechanism, which would allow anyone online to send websites the message that they do not want their online activity monitored.

SB761, a Do Not Track bill sponsored by Consumer Watchdog, would apply to Internet companies doing business in California. It gives authority to the Attorney General in consultation with the California Office of Privacy Protection to develop and enforce Do Not Track regulations.

There is no longer any anonymity on the Web. The most personal information about people's online habits is collected and eventually bought and sold, often instantaneously and invisibly. Data collection practices have become a business in themselves, driven by profits at consumers' expense. The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted these practices -- which included targeting children -- in its groundbreaking series "What They Know."

The bill is the first in California to explicitly provide for a Do Not Track mechanism. It is modeled after a federal Do Not Track bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). While the speakers expressed optimism the federal legislation will ultimately pass, they said there is no reason to delay protections for citizens of California.

A poll by Consumer Watchdog (PDF) last summer found that 80 percent of Americans support a Do Not Track option. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that most Americans are worried about their privacy and security when they use Facebook and Google.

Consumer Watchdog noted that Do Not Track legislation does not solve all online privacy issues, but must be an option for consumers to have a fundamental right to privacy online.

Interest in Do Not Track legislation increased after the Federal Trade Commission issued a report in December backing the concept. David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection testified to Congress that a Do Not Track mechanism was both feasible and enforceable.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz recently wrote:

"We also believe, as do most American businesses, that no company loses by respecting the wishes of its customers. Do Not Track will allow the Internet to continue to thrive while protecting our basic right to privacy when we travel in cyberspace."


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