FTC member: Do not track should apply to mobile apps

Federal Trade Commission member Julie Brill on Monday reiterated a push for stronger Internet privacy policies, including a controversial “do not track” requirement for all Web sites to adopt.

Brill, who spoke at a panel at the American Center for Progress on proposed anti-tracking mechanism, said such a mechanism should extend to Internet access on mobile devices. Consumers, she said, should be able to block Web sites and marketers from following them on smartphones and tablets, where they are spending more of their online time.

“Consumers should not be expected to make tracking choices on a company-by-company basis,” Brill said in a keynote speech. “This raises the issue ... of whether Do Not Track should be extended to the mobile environment. With so much information about consumers exchanged in that space, I believe the answer is yes.”

Brill cited a Future of Privacy Forum report that found that of the top 30 paid apps, 22 didn’t have a basic privacy policy.

She said the Web industry hasn’t done a good enough job to inform users clearly and simply when data about them is being collected. And while the FTC has stepped up enforcement of privacy violations, those actions come after potential harms are made and consumers need better preventative measures to protect them.

“It is not reasonable to expect consumers to read and understand privacy policies – most about as long and as clear as the Code of Hammurabi – especially when all that stands between them and buying a new flat-screen TV, or playing the latest version of Angry Birds, is clicking the little box that says I consent,” Brill said.

She is scheduled to testify at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing this Wednesday on Internet privacy and security.

Microsoft and Firefox have created “do not track” technologies in their browsers that allow users to block Web sites and marketers from following their activity on the Internet.

The FTC has proposed a Do Not Track requirement with the following provisions:

- It must be simple and easy to use

- Companies that don’t honor a consumer choice not to be tracked would face enforcement action

- A Do Not Track mechanism must apply across companies and technologies.

- Beyond blocking behavioral ads, a user should be able to stop the collection of information about her online behavior.

- Consumers who choose not to be tracked should not have to reset that preference every time a cookie appears, or every time they close their browser.

Related:

Consumer groups urge investigation into Facebook's facial recognition tool

Franken, Blumenthal introduce mobile privacy bill

Facebook hires former White House spokesman

Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.
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