FTC Proposes 'Do Not Track' Idea for Web Browsing

Dennis Faas's picture

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is promoting a new campaign that would enable users to stop advertisers from tracking their online behavior. Similar to having your telephone number appear on the "Do Not Call" registry, the FTC believes that having your web browser set to "Do Not Track" (DNT) would make for a safer online environment.

In activating the Do Not Track feature, your web browser sends out a virtual message to the website, asking the advertiser(s) not to track you. The message is repeated on every website you visit.

Activation Control at the Discretion of the User

Do Not Track requires no maintenance of a physical registry; instead, it puts activation control at the discretion of the user. The technology is said to be so simplistic that those who use the Firefox web browser have been able to employ a similar mechanism since July 2009. If the FTC had their way, the feature would appear on Internet Explorer, Safari and Chrome as well. (azcentral.com)

Do Not Track was designed with the average user in mind. As Jonathan Mayer stated, "Our aim was to make Do Not Track completely transparent to the user. They flip one switch and all advertising networks and tracking services will not track them anymore."

Advertisers Asked to Respect Consumer Wishes

However, there is one significant growing pain attributed with the service: advertisers must ultimately be compelled to obey the wishes of their audience. There are no methods of enforcement currently in place that would stop an advertiser from putting an end to their tracking behavior.

At a recent congressional hearing, David Vladeck, director of the FTC consumer protection bureau, warned that most online advertisers would not be inclined to offer up this service voluntarily. To make such a program effective, it would take "legislation or potentially robust, enforceable self-regulation."

In other words, advertisers would either suffer a penalty or have to abide by the honor system. (usatoday.com)

Many estimate that the Do Not Track mechanism will become as popular as the Do Not Call registry, which currently holds more than 200 million phone numbers. If the campaign is ultimately successful, the technology could one day be adapted for smartphones, tablet PCs and other mobile devices.

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