Rockefeller Introduces Do Not Track Bill


As promised, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has introduced a bill that would create a do-not-track mechanism for online information and give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to enforce consumer preferences for what online surfing info they did not want tracked.

Violators, which the FTC would pursue under its unfair and deceptive practices authority, could be fined up to $16,000 a day to a total of $15 million per violation.

The bill charges the FTC within a year to come up two rules, one that establish standards for a mechanism in which Web surfers can "simply and easily" indicate whether they do or do not want to information provided by online service providers tracked, including providers of mobile apps and services. The other would "prohibit providers from collecting personal information from those individuals who have expressed such a preference."

It would allow for the collection of information to provide basic functionality of the service, but prevents that from being shared with third parties for any further purpose by requiring that it be anonymized or deleted "upon completion" of that primary purpose.

The bill was hailed by the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer's Federation of America, the ACLU and others. The ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation are concerned that the combination of online information collection with off-line databases could too easily morph into giving the government greater access to surfers' protected online expression. They said the Rockefeller bill would better protect that freedom of speech and association online.

In a conference call with reporters, Susan Grant of Consumer Federation of America said the bill would give Americans both the rights and the right tools to browse without having each click tracked, and Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy added that he thought the bill protected consumers while also allowing for a robust e-commerce economy.

They pointed out that the majority of major browser companies were including or working on including a do-not-track function and that the bill would essentially be putting the FTC's enforcement muscle behind that choice to make sure it was being honored.

Jamie Cort of Consumer Watchdog has been pushing a do-not-track bill in California. He said he was not sure that would pass, but that if it did not, and the Rockefeller bill did not get traction, his group would push for a ballot initiative that would even tougher.

The bill comes not only in the long arc of FTC and Commerce Department efforts to encourage voluntary do-not-track regimes, but also in the more immediate wake of personal data breaches at Sony online gaming sites, inadvertent mobile geolocation data collection at Google, and geolocation data storage and collection issues involving Apple phones and iPads.

"Recent reports of privacy invasions have made it imperative that we do more to put consumers in the driver's seat when it comes to their personal information," said Rockefeller in announcing the bill. "I believe consumers have a right to decide whether their information can be collected and used online. This bill offers a simple, straightforward way for people to stop companies from tracking their movements online."
Text of the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011 is available here.