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Mobile industry in crosshairs of new Do Not Track bill

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced a new bill yesterday that would enable consumers to browse the Internet and use mobile phones without having their movements tracked.

The Do Not Track Online Act of 2011 addresses the data-collection practices of Internet and mobile companies by supporting a mandatory browser-based Do Not Track mechanism that would give users a way to opt out of having their information collected.

?Essentially, this is a Do-Not-Call service for the digital age,? said Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy, Washington. ?But instead of eliminating nuisance phone calls, this bill eliminates a far more dangerous practice: tracking and profiling based on the collection of personal information without or knowledge or consent.

?Under the provisions of the Do Not Track bill, consumers will be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want to share personal information, including their various Internet and mobile Web activities,? he said.

The bill comes at a time when there has been a lot of activity around privacy, the Internet and mobile phones. 

Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and John Kerry (D-MA) recently introduced an Internet privacy bill recently that does not have a Do Not Track component.

FTC would enforce rules
Meanwhile, Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Joe Barton (R-TX) are seeking to amend the Children?s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to add additional protection for children and teenagers who use mobile devices.

The Do Not Track bills calls for the Federal Trade Commission to draw up the specific rules while the agency and states? attorneys general would enforce it.

Sen. Rockefeller is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the Senate.

During a conference call yesterday with reporters, several consumer and privacy groups expressed their support for the bill because of its flexibility and the fact that it includes mobile devices.

?The bill is commendable for including mobile devices,? said Beth Givens, director at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Washington.

While mobile phones are not directly addressed in some of the other bills already in circulation, the data collection practices of mobile companies has received a lot of attention lately.

One of the companies under fire is Google, which has had several lawsuits brought against it for its data collection practices related to Android. 

At issue in these cases is the level of transparency in Google?s data collection as well as with whom the information is being shared.

The groups also commended the bill for giving the FTC flexibility in terms of how it puts the bill into action. 

?The bill allows for a lot of privacy controls and relatively little privacy infrastructure,? said Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, New York. ?Some in the industry will be happy about that.?

This flexibility includes enabling the FTC to develop regulations through the rulemaking process that would determine which kinds of tracking are OK and what is harmful or unexpected. Companies will still be able to provide services requested by consumers.

The Do Not Track bill has some advantages over the some of the other privacy legislation that has already been introduced this year.

?The benefit of standalone Do Not Track legislation is that it is relatively uncomplicated,? said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America, Washington.

Overall, consumer and privacy groups seemed pleased that the Do Not Track bill would address the issues that consumers are concerned about while still allowing digital companies to operate.  

?We want to make sure ecommerce growth can coexist with meaningful privacy protection,? Mr. Chester said.

Final Take
Center for Democracy & Technology on app privacy