The New York Times reported yesterday that two government agencies are developing separate—and possibly competing—proposals on how to deal with growing online privacy concerns. The Commerce Department is reportedly preparing a document that would recommend allowing the online advertising industry to self-regulate, much like the user agreements that people already check off when they visit certain websites.
Federal Trade Commission officials, though, are considering a stricter regulation, such as a "do not track" option that would let users tell sites not to collect info about them. This would be similar to the "do not call" lists developed to prevent telemarketers from calling at all hours.
Online advertisers would like to keep their ability to create targeted ads in their present form while consumer groups, not surprisingly, lean towards trade commission officials idea of a "do not track" function.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that some sites are actually reining in their tracking tools, but not just out of the goodness of their corporate hearts. Some Web publishers realized that tracking tools were operating on their sites without their knowledge and that they were missing an opportunity to profit from their users' data. (Sites are also concerned about outsiders gaining access to the private data of users.) See the Wall Street Journal's recent series on digital privacy called "What They Know" and Consumer Reports advice on maintaining your privacy and protecting your identity when shopping online.