Last week was a big week for online privacy in Washington. The FTC issued a preliminary staff report endorsing a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would allow consumers to choose whether to allow the collection of data regarding their online searching and browsing activities. There was also a hearing on the issue in the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on “Do Not Track” legislation that examined the feasibility of establishing this mechanism for providing online users an “opt-out” from having their online activity tracked by data-gathering firms.
I went to two events last week on this topic. The first, sponsored by the Future of Privacy Forum, was a panel of academics, technology experts, and consumer organization representatives. We also heard from NTIA’s Daniel Weitzner, Associate Administrator for the Office of Policy Analysis and Development (Department of Commerce). He spoke about the importance of having tools to manage privacy and that supporting innovations to help develop good technical solutions is important. Others spoke about the limitations of a “Do Not Track” mechanism.
A second online privacy event last week, the Privacy Working Group sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), discussed the pros and cons of a “Do Not Track” mechanism. While I agree consumers are concerned about the tracking of their online activity, many also see the benefits of targeted ads. This is an important issue for consumers and it is vital that we continue to encourage innovations that will offer more technical solutions for online privacy controls and consumer choice.