Have you visited a website dedicated to primarily European users and noticed all the privacy notices that pop up? Users can opt out of being tracked online by the site. With the "Do Not Track Online Act" being introduced to Congress, the question of whether a similar system should be used in the United States is now front and center in the political arena.
Do Not Track Online Act
The Do Not Track Online Act is legislation [click to read the bill] created by Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Jay Rockfeller of West Virginia. The legislation is a response to the efforts, or lack thereof, of the Federal Trade Commission to address the privacy of consumers when said consumers are surfing online.
This is not the first time Senators Rockfeller and Blumenthal have considered introducing such legislation. They were going to do so in 2011, but the FTC argued for a voluntary compliance program to be developed with industry leaders. The Senators deferred. Two years later, the voluntary program has not come together and the Senators are no longer willing to wait.
Under the proposed law, consumers will have the right to opt out of being tracked when browsing online. Companies must comply with the request whether they consist of websites, apps or advertising networks. The FTC and state attorney generals are given authority to process any company that fails to comply.
The bill includes stringent penalty provisions at first glance. A single violation would carry a fine up to $16,000. A company failing to comply would most likely have thousands of violations, which could result in a rather significant fine. The bill appears to be neutered in this regard to some extent since it contains a $15 million cap on the total fines one company can receive. For larger companies, this figure represents a pittance.
The issue of privacy is taking on renewed importance as technology plays a larger role in modern society. The days of just your personal computer being a trackable source are coming to an end. From smart phones to computer oriented devices such as cars, appliances and televisions collecting information, developing a balance between consumer privacy rights and advertiser marketing efforts will be a running theme for the foreseeable future.
The Do Not Track Online Act may or may not proceed through Congress and be signed into law. Even if it does pass, you can expect it will not be the last piece of legislation on privacy topics we see in the next 10 years.