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Do-Not-Track laws gain US momentum

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A national law limiting information businesses can gather on consumers online looks increasingly likely, with Senator John Rockefeller the latest politician to jump on bandwagon for do-not-track legislation.

The chairman of the powerful US senate commerce committee plans to introduce a bill next week that will require companies to give online shoppers the opportunity to opt out of online tracking - and enforcement powers to the Federal Trade Commission.

Rockefeller said in a statement:

Consumers have a right to know when and how their personal and sensitive information is being used online – and most importantly to be able to say 'no thanks' when companies seek to gather that information without their approval... This bill will offer a simple, straightforward way for people to stop companies from tracking their every move on the Internet.

Rockefeller's bill would become the second piece of Do-Not-Track legislation on the table in the US Congress and the third piece tackling the subject of consumer data online.

Track and field

It follows the Do Not Track Me Online Act introduced to the US House of Representatives in Washington DC in February by Democrat Jackie Speier. In April, Senators and former US presidential candidates John McCain and John Kerry submitted their Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act (here; PDF). This requires companies trading online to provide clear notice about what information is being collected and for what purposes.

However, the bill simply codifies what's already going on online, but it also allows organizations that have an "established business relationship" with the individual to continue collecting data. AdAge reports that Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook sent an "army" of lawyers to the offices of McCain and Kerry to argue for terms that would exempt the site.

It also reported that the wording of the McCain-Kerry bill was changed from requiring consumers to opt-in before data could be collected in a concession to the industry.

The Rockefeller bill may have been introduced to put a do-not-track provision into the mix of discussions at the Senate; and it's possible the two bills could be merged rather than have separate and overlapping laws once the debate is done.

California gripes

It is also probably that what does emerge would be merged with Speier's Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act. It typically happens in the US legislative process that bills on the same subjects from both houses are merged before being sent to the President to be signed.

This week, state politicians in California began debating their own do-not-track legislation. This is opposed by Google, AOL, and Yahoo! and two technology trade associations, TechNet and CTIA.

Google is the only browser manufacturer to have individually come out against California's proposed law, signing its name to a letter to state politicians claiming that the bill "gratuitously" singles out advertising companies for special regulation. ®

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