Skip to main content

Rockefeller: Consumer Privacy Self-Regulation Has Failed

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Commerce
Committee that oversees the Federal Trade Commission, told FTC chairman
Jon Leibowitz in a letter Wednesday
that "self-regulation for the
purposes of consumer privacy protection has failed" and the FTC should
work with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on voluntary do-not-track (DNT)

The W3C is meeting this week in Amsterdam to work on
voluntary DNT standards. Some have expressed concerns about the U.S. signing on
to global do-not-track standards, but Rockefeller does not share those
concerns, and points out that the standards are voluntary.

Rockefeller conceded that many browser companies were
voluntarily featuring DNT functionality, but there was no legal obligation for
online companies to honor those DNT requests and stop collecting online info.
He also pointed to the Digital Advertising Alliance pledge to honor DNT, but
said there were exceptions that allowed for the collection and use of personal
info for "product development" and "market research."

Rockefeller has introducedDo Not Track legislation, which would give the FTC more authority to
enforce a DNT regime. 

"I have long expressed skepticism that private
companies are capable of collectively producing and abiding by meaningful
standards that protect consumers," he said. "If the advertising
industry cannot be coaxed into living up to its commitment and adopting robust
voluntary DNT standards, I believe it will only highlight the need for Congress
to act..."

The Digital Advertising Alliance, which includes the major
advertising associations, has committed to a browser-based do-not-track option
that allows Web users to opt out of behavioral advertising and would be
respected across those participating in DAA's self-regulatory program, which
DAA execs have said is about 90% of businesses.

The browser-based option is still an opt-out, rather than
opt-in mechanism, for Web surfers. But those who opted out would be preventing
"most" data that would otherwise be collected.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.