The Electronic Frontier Foundation approved of the Federal Trade Commission’s final report on digital consumer privacy yesterday, although the privacy advocate did express some caution in giving the report its wholesale endorsement.
The EFF supported the FTC’s recommendation of the ‘Do Not Track’ feature that will soon be arriving with browsers, a function which would allow consumers to indicate to third-party cookie distributors to not want their browsing activities tracked. However, the EFF did echo concerns voiced by Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch in the report’s dissenting statement where he questioned the potential problems of the language used in the report. The EFF warned of a possibly spurious interpretation of the ‘Do Not Track’ wherein the policy becomes watered down into a less effective “Do Not Target” maxim:
We share Commissioner Rosch’s concerns. EFF is working through the W3C process with the good faith belief that the consensus end-result will provide users with a meaningful form of protection from tracking, not just the display of targeted advertisements. By continuing to engage in this forum with both industry figures and other consumer advocates, EFF is committed to ensuring that a real Do Not Track mechanism is created and we’re sending representatives to Washington D.C. next month to fight for users and innovators in the next W3C meeting.
Concerning the continuing problem of data brokers, the conglomerate of companies that collects data on consumers, including personal information, from several sources in order to resell the information to customers for assorted purposes, like marketing new products and creating websites that list consumers’ individual profiles, the FTC let them off the hook, the EFF opines. In many cases, these companies can amass troves of information on consumers without even having to interact directly with them. “A user who wants her information removed from these sites has little legal weight to force companies to respect her choice,” the EFF wrote. This lack of control over one’s information could have damaging consequences and further protection needs to be extended in order to guard against this vulnerability. While the FTC urged data brokers to improve its transparency concerning opt-out choices and consumer access rights, the agency stopped short of requiring it.
So now that the White House has issued an initiative to improve privacy for consumers with regard to first-party companies, or sites that consumers visit directly like Google or Amazon, the ‘Do Not Track’ feature should do well to curb any third-party companies’ tracking of consumers.