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Time Warner to Weigh in on Do Not Track

Time Warner Cable EVP and Chief Government Relations Officer Gail MacKinnon is on the witness list for a hearing on creating a do-not-track, the online equivalent of the FTC's do-not call list.

That would make it easier for Web surfers to opt out of behavioral marketing, which helps pay for all the free online content surfers have come to expect.

The hearing, in the House Energy & Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Dec. 2, is entitled "Do-Not-Track' Legislation: Is Now the Right Time?" While Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush has already introduced an online privacy bill, it does not have a similar blanket opt-out mechanism, so the hearing is to help determine whether to expand the bill to include a "simple and universal" opt out mechanism, according to a briefing memo for the hearing obtained by B&C/Multichannel News.

Others on the witness list: Daniel J. Weitzner, associate administrator for the Office of Policy Analysis and Development at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration; David Vladeck, director, Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC; Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America; Joe Pasqua, VP of research at Symantec; Prof. Eben Moglen, founding Director of the Software Freedom Law Center; and Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

According to the memo, the hearing was prompted in part by various reports of the surreptitious, pervasive and increasingly invasive way that which Web surfers' information was being tracked, collected and pieced together to create targeted marketing profiles.

The memo recognizes the value of targeted marketing in supporting free Web content, but suggested that it was still only a fraction ($925 million) of the total spending on Internet advertising ($22.661 million), citing Interactive Advertising Bureau figures in both cases.

Rush's bill (H.R. 5777), which was introduced earlier this year, would require more disclosure of privacy practices and information collections both online and offline, and would direct the FTC to determine how those disclosures were to be made. It would also require the ability for a surfer to opt out of sharing nonsensitive info, and opt in to sharing such info. Those opting for a self-regulatory regime approved by the FCC would not be subject to some of the bill's provisions.

The bill would give the FTC the power to levy civil penalties, which it currently can't do, and would streamline the rulemaking process. It is currently difficult for the FTC to conduct rulemakings, so its enforcement is essentially through suing and settling.