Online Privacy Law: “Do Not Track” & Boucher-Sterns Update

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Online Privacy Law Update

E-commerce and Personalization

These days, a personalized Web experience is the norm. Websites remember us by name, shopping carts keep things in them, and targeted marketing is served up daily. How does “the Internet” know what targeted ads to serve? Via cookies that track your online click-stream behavior. These behavioral data points are analyzed and used to push targeted products towards you.

Online Privacy, Cookies and Surveillance Technologies

Personalized content is made possible by “cookies” – also called “marketing cookies,” “web cookies,” “browser cookies,” or “HTTP cookies.” They’re tiny text files that websites embed in your browser. The browser sends the text file back to the website’s server each time you access the site.

Cookies have a wide variety of uses. They can contain user-id and password information for authentication, they can identify the actions, proclivities, and habits of site users as preferences, and they can save shopping cart contents.

Cookies are not the only surveillance technology being used to monitor online consumer behavior. Another tool called “Web beacons” are embedded in pages as tiny images. Each time the page is accessed by a user, a request is sent to the server. Web beacons are sophisticated and can track at a very detailed level.

“Do Not Track” Registry

In 2007, nine nonprofits submitted a proposal to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposing the creation of a “Do Not Track” registry modeled after the popular “Do Not Call” list.

In recent months, the idea of a “Do Not Track” registry has begun generating traction once again. In July 2010, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz told a Senate panel that the agency was actively exploring ways to implement the registry. Meanwhile,the Boucher-Sterns bill — another business-focused data collection and storage law proposal — has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Why the Boucher-Sterns Bill and the “Do Not Track” Registry Are Bad Ideas for Businesses

If you operate a business with an Internet component, both the Boucher-Sterns bill and the “Do Not Track” registry may represent major challenges. Consult with an Internet lawyer to learn more about how these policies may impact your company.

]May 2014 Update: The Boucher-Sterns online privacy bill died a quick death. It never got off the ground.]

Users Already Have Access To Privacy Tools

The expense involved in implementing the “Do Not Track” registry and provisions of the Boucher-Sterns bill would be enormous – and unnecessary given the fact that users already have access to privacy protections via browsers.

[May 2014 Update: We crossed out that last part because it’s not true anymore. Yahoo! recently announced its intention to ignore “Do Not Track” signals from users. Expect others to follow.]

The most recent versions of all major browsers allow users to decide if and for how long a cookie will be accepted. Additionally, the most recent versions of Firefox’s and Google’s Chrome browser contain plugins that allow users to opt out of other tracking technologies.

Speak With An Online Privacy Lawyer

Do you have an online privacy issue related to your online business? If yes, contact Kelly / Warner Law today. We represent many online businesses with a host of legal issues related to doing business on the Internet — including, but not limited to, online privacy, copyright, defamation, unfair competition and FTC compliance. Our firm and founding partners are highly rated attorneys who know the niche exceptionally well. Get in touch today to begin the conversation.

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