Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

U.S. Pushes Plan to Keep Consumer Data Secure ; Guidelines Set Course toward Simpler Way to Avoid Tracking on Web

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

U.S. Pushes Plan to Keep Consumer Data Secure ; Guidelines Set Course toward Simpler Way to Avoid Tracking on Web

Article excerpt

The guidelines move electronic commerce closer to a simplified process by which consumers can tell online companies whether they want to be tracked.

The Obama administration has outlined a set of online privacy principles that officials said would help U.S. consumers control the use of their personal data gleaned from Internet searches.

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browsers to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers -- Google, Microsoft, Apple and others -- will have to agree to the new standards.

But because those companies also are the largest competitors in the business of providing advertising to Web sites, and are part of a consortium participating in the development of the principles, administration officials said they expected the standards to give consumers privacy while also allowing electronic commerce to grow.

"American consumers can't wait any longer for clear rules of the road that ensure their personal information is safe online," President Barack Obama said in a statement released Wednesday. "By following this blueprint, companies, consumer advocates and policy makers can help protect consumers and ensure the Internet remains a platform for innovation and economic growth."

Even before Congress approves privacy legislation, the Federal Trade Commission will have the ability to enforce compliance with a code of conduct to be developed by the Commerce Department or with advertising industry guidelines that companies would adopt voluntarily, Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the trade commission, said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

Companies responsible for the delivery of nearly 90 percent of online behavioral advertisements -- ads that appear on a user's screen based on browsing and buying habits -- have agreed to comply when consumers choose to control online tracking, the consortium said Wednesday.

But even if a click of a mouse or a touch of a button can thwart Internet tracking devices, there is no guarantee that companies will not still manage to gather data on Web behavior. Compliance is voluntary on the part of consumers, Internet advertisers and commerce sites. …

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