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'Do Not Track' Registry Proposed for Web Use

"It would require either a change to Web browsers or an add-on to a browser to make it all work," Smith said. Companies such as Microsoft and Mozilla that offer Internet browsers are unlikely to cooperate because they rely on online advertising revenue, either directly or indirectly, he said.

Privacy advocates want the FTC to maintain a list of all advertising networks. Consumers could then essentially opt out of each one.

"You still receive ads," said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, who helped craft the proposal. "Companies just won't be able to track what sites you visit."

The FTC has previously considered extending the concept of the Do Not Call list to the Internet, FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said. "It's a really promising idea that would empower consumers to choose their own level of privacy protections," he said. "We still need to learn a little more about it. For example, would there be a problem with malefactors getting folks' e-mail addresses? We looked at the notion of doing a Do Not Spam registry, and we decided against it because we were afraid the list of people opting out could get into the wrong hands."

Leibowitz also said that the FTC would probably need legislators' approval and increased appropriations before it could implement a Do Not Track registry, just as it received approval and funding for the Do Not Call registry.

The groups' proposal also included other suggestions for FTC action, including allowing people to access and change behavioral data that ad companies collect about them. This would mean, for example, that a consumer could see that he had been wrongly profiled as a golf lover and could then change his profile to reflect his interest in football, Dixon said.

Advocates of the Center for Democracy and Technology-backed proposal say limiting Web-based marketing could actually help people warm up to online ads. "In some respects improving the efficiency of advertising could be a consumer-friendly activity," Cooper said. "If it's not abuse, if it's not coercive, matching consumers with products could be a good thing."

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