Do Not Track bill is back on the table

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Impatient with the glacial progress so far, Senator Jay Rockefeller is having another shot at getting a Do Not Track bill through Congress.

His bill would force the Federal Trade Commission to set out regulations covering the collection and use of personal information obtained by tracking people's online activity. It's an amended version of proposals first considered in 2011 following calls from the FTC.

The aim is to establish a set of standards and procedures through which consumers could opt out of having their web activity tracked. Until now, Do Not Track has been voluntary.

"The attitude had been, let's give self-regulation a chance," says John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project. "We've spent 18 months and it's not working. Now is the time for legislative action and we welcome Sen. Rockefeller's commitment to getting Do Not Track done."

Work has progressed, albeit slowly, in defining how Do Not Track might work. Standards body the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been drafting standards on how, technically, a Do Not Track message would be sent, and on the obligations of a website that receives such a message.

However, says Simpson, "Self-regulatory efforts to develop a Do-Not-Track standard have stalled. Rockefeller's bill may spark action in such forums as the World Wide Web Consortium, but at the end of the day, we'll need legislation to get this done. Industry has had no real incentive to agree to a meaningful standard."

There has been some success. Google added support for Do Not Track to its Chrome browser this time last year, and Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft and AOL have also pledged support. Mozilla says it will block third party cookies by default in version 22 of Firefox this summer.