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Timothy B. Lee

Timothy B. Lee

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government. She also delves into the societal impacts of technology access and how innovation is intertwined with cultural development.

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Posted at 04:05 PM ET, 05/06/2011

Lawmakers pursue ‘do not track’ privacy bills for the Web

Lawmakers said Friday that they will introduce two “do-not-track” privacy bills that would allow consumers to block companies from following their activity on the Internet.

The proposals reflect Congress’s growing focus on passing first-time privacy laws for all Internet users and updating children’s privacy laws as more youths get on the Web through mobile devices.

In the House, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) issued a draft version of a children’s privacy bill called “Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011,” which aims to protect the youngest of users from tailored marketing and from exposing personal information without their parents’ consent.

The bill includes a provision for children 12 and younger and make the Federal Trade Commission the watchdog over Web companies who violate that law.

The bill specifies that privacy laws would apply to mobile phone apps, an area unregulated by the federal government. And it would require companies to get parental consent to collect location information from children age 12 and younger. Teens would have to expressly agree to location collection.

In the Senate, John “Jay” Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he would introduce a bill aimed at all Internet users making it illegal for online companies to track a consumer who had opted out of the data collection. The measure would also require the Web company to destroy or make anonymous the user information once it is no longer useful. The FTC would be in charge of enforcement.

Web firms generally oppose “do not track” rules, first recommended by the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that companies can create their own tools to help users manage tracking. Some firms such as Microsoft and Mozilla have come up with own browser-based privacy controls without government mandates.

“I've asked for a waiver of Senate ethics rules, so I can give Sen. Rockefeller a gift he really needs — an iPad,” said Steve Del Bianco, the executive director of NetChoice, a trade group that represents Web firms including AOL, eBay and Expedia. “So the senator can see for himself how interest tracking lets advertisers pay for all those free apps and Web services that regular Americans love to use.”

Internet security and privacy concerns have heightened recently over the news that some companies have collected data without users’ knowledge or have suffered security breaches on their Web sites. This week Sony revealed that its PlayStation user accounts were again hacked, allowing access to sensitive information.

Apple and Google will testify next Tuesday at a hearing on mobile phone location data and how those firms and others are tracking the whereabouts of its users.

“Consumers have a right to know when and how their personal and sensitive information is being used online—and most importantly to be able to say ‘no, thanks’ when companies seek to gather that information without their approval,” Rockefeller said in a release.

The House bill aims to significantly strengthen and update online privacy laws for children first created 14 years ago.

And it would create a “digital marketing bill of rights” for teens that would still allow for the collection of personal information but with some guidelines for how companies disclose their practices.

By  |  04:05 PM ET, 05/06/2011

 
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