“Do Not Track” Bill Hopes To Let Consumers Just Say No To Online Tracking

Just about anywhere you go online, at least some of your actions are being tracked. Sometimes, it’s as simple and innocuous as measuring unique visits to a website. Other times, it’s more invasive — keeping track of the pages you browse to provide you more targeted advertising. A newly introduced piece of federal legislation aims to give consumers more choices about when their browsing behavior is being tracked.

Today, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Ed Markey (MA) are introducing the Do Not Track Online Act of 2015 [PDF], which would direct the Federal Trade Commission to create new regulations “regarding the collection and use of personal information obtained by tracking the online activity of an individual.”

If the bill passes, the FTC would have a year to establish standards for implementing a simple and easy-to-use Do Not Track mechanism for consumers to indicate that their personal information should not be collected while surfing the web. The FTC would also create a rule prohibiting providers from collecting the personal information of individuals who have used the Do Not Track mechanism.

The law wouldn’t ban the collection of all data. If the collection is deemed necessary to provide a service requested by the user and the information is anonymized or deleted as soon as that service is provided, it can be collected. Similarly, if the user consents to the data collection — so long as the disclosures about the collection are clear — it can continue.

Because tracking is so widespread and so, perhaps inextricably, wrapped up in almost every site you visit, the FTC will been asked to consider a number of factors in crafting reasonable regulations, including, the technical feasibility and costs of implementation and compliance, how to alert consumers to the availability of a Do Not Track mechanism, and whether and how information can be collected anonymously so that it cannot be reasonably linked to a single person or computer.

The proposed law would also give the FTC and state attorneys general the authority to seek civil penalties against violators of these regulations.

“Consumers need this protection against invasive tracking – companies that collect private, sensitive information with every online click,” said Blumenthal in a statement. “People deserve to be empowered to stop trackers who collect and store their personal, private information.”

Adds Markey, “Every online click consumers make provides a detailed and private picture of their personal lives, and American should have control over the collection and use of this personal, sensitive information.”

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.