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Lawmakers this week are fighting against internet companies that track users’ personal information in an effort to alleviate online privacy concerns.
First, Rep. Edward J. Market (D. Mass) and Joe Barton (R. Texas) introduced the “Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011.” The bill (PDF) restricts how companies monitor children’s information and the way they market towards children online. Parents will also have more control over their children’s personal information that is already online. The new bill is a significant expansion on the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, which only requires that children’s websites get parental permission before obtaining personal information from children.
The Representatives cited a Wall Street Journal investigation which found that children’s websites install more tracking software than websites targeted towards adults. For example, Snazzyspace, a website that helps teenagers customize social networking pages, installed 248 tracking tools, which provide information to companies about people’s personalities, hobbies, likes, and dislikes in an effort to create more effective advertising.
On Monday, Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D.W Va) introduced the “Do Not Track Online Act of 2011,” a bill that intends to protect all online consumers by giving them the opportunity to opt out of having their online activities tracked. Many consumer and civil rights groups have expressed support for the bill including the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumers Union, and the Center for a Digital Democracy.
Some groups also criticize these No Track Bills because they view them as unwarranted government micromanaging into the communications between businesses and their consumers. It is understandable why internet companies are frustrated by the flurry of No Track bills, but their claims of government micromanagement don’t really hold up when compared to other examples of government regulation of advertising. The government also regulates advertising on the radio, television, and other forms of media. Because internet advertising implicates more serious privacy concerns, it is reasonable for lawmakers to want more intense forms of regulation.
If the No Track bills pass, they will provide significant privacy protections for consumers. However, the new policies will still require individuals to take affirmative steps to protect themselves. Internet users must learn about their internet privacy rights, and remember to opt out of tracking services. Parents must monitor their children’s internet usage, because the Kid’s No Track Bill is only geared towards websites targeting children. Privacy protections can only be realized if individuals are willing to be vigilant along with their lawmakers.
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