Bolstered by America's love for its telemarketer-blocking Do Not Call list, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering a similar "Do Not Track" system for the Internet that would allow people to prevent marketers from tracking their web browsing and other online practices.
As you surf the vast and still largely unregulated Internet, websites - usually without your knowledge - collect information about your location and everything you search for, click on, buy or view. They then use this information to send your web browser advertisements that are targeted to you and your online habits.
For example, soon after searching the Internet for "Chicago hotels," you will start seeing ads for Chicago area hotels, attractions and services. You may even start getting unsolicited email offering "Great Chicago travel deals." This is "targeted marketing" and you are the target.
As envisioned by the FTC, it's Do Not Track mechanism would provide a simple way for consumers to block marketers from tracking their online activities.
Unlike its Do Not Call Registry, which allows consumers to opt out of receiving most telemarketing calls, the FTC's Internet Do Not Track mechanism would not require consumers to register their phone numbers with the government.
Instead, the mechanism the FTC is considering would involve a simple web browser setting, similar to a cookie, consumers could activate that would signal their desire to not be tracked and targeted by marketers.
The Do Not Track mechanism is just one of a series of ideas contained in the FTC's report to Congress titled Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Change. The report suggests strategies that could be developed to protect the online and offline privacy of consumers in a day when personal data can be so easily collected without the consumer's knowledge or consent.
The FTC's five commissioners have not yet voted on the Do Not Track mechanism or any of the plans in the report and are still considering the massive collection of public comments received on the topic of online consumer privacy.
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