Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Working With White House on Do No Track Browsing

Browser address bar with mouse cursor

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL are on board with a new White House “Do Not Track” technology plan that will give more control to users and more power to the Federal Trade Commission. A new Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights was also introduced today.

The ad industry has also signed on to the browser-based do no track standard. “Companies that are [Digital Advertising Alliance] members – including the web’s largest ad networks like Yahoo, Valueclick, and AOL Advertising – will have to answer to the FTC if they do not recognize [do not track] requests from consumers that come through the browsers,” ClickZ reported.

It is expected the process will take nine months before we actually see the browser-based technology, which may come in the form of a browser button. Google, which has been getting heat over tracking Safari and Internet Explorer users, is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“[Google] is pleased to join a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘do-not-track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls,” said Google Senior Vice President of Advertising Susan Wojcicki in the statement.

“The advertising industry also committed not to release consumers’ browsing data to companies who might use it for purposes other than advertising, such as employers making hiring decisions or insurers determining coverage,” according to the announcement.

In other words, web tracking will continue; those who opt out will see less ad personalization based on browsing history. It doesn’t protect your data in the instances of market research, product development, or inquiries from law enforcement.

As for the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, it focuses on seven areas where companies must protect the privacy of users:

  • Individual Control: Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it. 
  • Transparency: Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices. 
  • Respect for Context: Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data. 
  • Security: Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data. 
  • Access and Accuracy: Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate. 
  • Focused Collection: Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain. 
  • Accountability: Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

ICO Investigation in UK Over Google’s Browser Privacy Claims

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has confirmed it is in discussion with Google to ensure the search giant is complying with all necessary UK data laws following the reports about privacy settings being bypassed.

“We are aware of this issue and are continuing to make enquiries with Google to ensure that they comply with the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations,” ICO said in a statement to V3. As V3 notes: 

The issue is particularly interesting from a UK and European perspective as it comes weeks before the so-called Cookie Law comes in to force in May, which will force firms to obtain the consent of users before deploying cookies on browsers.

Google has admitted in the past it is struggling to develop the best system possible to adhere to this law.

The incident is not the first time Google has had a run-in with the ICO either. Google was previously investigated over the collection of Wi-Fi data from private accounts by its Street View cars.

Google Sued for Violating Wiretapping Laws

Meanwhile, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Delaware against Google because “Google’s willful and knowing actions violated” federal wiretapping laws and other computer-related statutes by bypassing Safari’s privacy settings, attorneys for Matthew Soble of Illinois said in a complaint, as reported by Bloomberg.

In another case, a Missouri man alleges that Google violated the Wiretap Act and is asking for damages on behalf of 62 million users, according to paidContent.

Since this news of Google’s browser tracking broke last week, lawmakers – Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.), Joe Barton (R., Texas) and Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.) – and two watchdog groups –  Consumer Watchdog and the Electronic Privacy Information Center – began pushing the FTC to investigate whether Google violated a privacy settlement the FTC signed with Google last year.

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