Who's Tracking Your Web Movements?

In November the U.S. Federal Trade Commission held a two-day meeting to discuss the issue of online behavioral tracking. Industry representatives, hoping to forestall any kind of government intervention, offered their own proposals, promising an increased level of vigilance in their efforts to educate customers about information gathering and tracking practices, and tools to make it easier for customers to essentially "Just Say No" to such practices.

Critics of behavioral tracking, including our organization, told the FTC that current industry guidelines aimed at protecting online consumer privacy aren't working and that change was needed to rein in and give consumers more control. To that end, the FTC was presented with a set of proposals, including the creation of a "Do Not Track" list. Such a list would function much like the current "Do Not Call" list but the list would not include consumer names and information.

Instead the plan calls for the FTC to compile and manage a list of servers and devices used to place tracking identifiers (including those contained in cookies) on consumers' computers. With such a list freely available to the public through the FTC, the community of browser and other software developers could create tools that would easily allow consumers to use the list to block the placement of those tracking identifiers, and thereby prevent advertisers and Web sites from tracking their activities on the Web.

"The Do Not Track" list would not prevent advertisers from serving ads, nor would it interfere with the use of helpful cookies that support users' online preferences. But it would put control back where it belongs -- with users -- and it would lay the foundation for consumers to be able to make informed choices about their privacy online.

Leslie Harris is president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology.

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