Thursday, February 23, 2012

Web giants agree to honor browser do-not-track buttons as White House calls for Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights

The White House is calling for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, and guess what? A consortium of Internet giants including Google, which has been in hot water this week over bypassing the security settings on IE9 and Safari, has agreed to support a do-not-track button that will embedded in most Web browsers.

A "survey" done by the Wall Street Journal on its site showed that 93 percent of respondents would use a do-not-track button if implemented in their browser of choice. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL are among those who have agreed to follow the terms of a do-not-track system.

To be clear, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called for such a system about two years ago, and Firefox was the first to add the do-not-track option, early last year (known more often as Private Browsing), and others soon followed. However, just because browsers implemented it really didn't mean anything, as those doing the tracking hadn't agreed to honor the setting.

With Thursday's announcement, these companies will begin work to adopt and honoring the system within nine months, according to the consortium, the Digital Advertising Alliance, which represents more than 400 companies.

Meanwhile, the administration's Privacy Bill of Rights calls for the following:
  • Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data companies collect from them and how they use it.
  • Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable and accessible information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that companies will collect, use and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data is inaccurate.
  • Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the consumer-privacy bill of rights.
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Don't expect complete privacy, no matter what. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people's Web browsing habits for ad customization, as well as for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. However, the data can still be used for some vaguely worded purposes such as "market research" and "product development."

Additionally, the data can still be obtained by law enforcement authorities.

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In addition, companies such as Facebook which track their members through "Like" buttons and other such features will still be able to do so.

Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union admitted that "It's a good start. But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose."

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