For today's purposes, let's get right back to the good news. The bill, SB 761, would offer consumers a "Do Not Track Me" mechanism, something the bill's sponsor describe as "one of the most powerful tools available to protect consumers' privacy. The mechanism will allow anyone online to send Websites the message that they do not want their online activity monitored.
I can vouch, personally, for Senator Lowenthal too. He's been a consumer stalwart in the legislature, even receiving our organizations "consumer hero" award. Here's a few of his comments about the bill and why he's authoring it:
Nearly 80% of Californians use the internet and nearly 45% use Facebook — including myself. But, today millions of Californians are unaware that their online behavior is being tracked; their data collected and sold to advertisers..The type of data that is collected is far reaching. Anywhere from the type of sites a person frequents, to the time of day and the location from where the person is accessing the sites. Most disturbing, however, is that the information that is being shared may include very personal information such as a name, home address, email address, or financial information.
I'd also point you to two more comments regarding this bill that add some more context.
James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media: "In our recent Common Sense survey, 85% of parents said they are more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago, and 75% of parents said they don’t think social networking sites do a good job of protecting children’s online privacy. It’s important to see California leaders taking a stand to protect online privacy, especially for kids and teens."
Beth Givens, Privacy Rights Clearing House Director: "A Do Not Track Me mechanism gives consumers a simple way to tell websites not to spy on them and not to collect detailed profiles of their web usage. Consumers should have the right to control how their data is used or whether it is gathered at all."
Also of note, and a smart strategy being utilized by Consumer Watchdog, was their personal letter to Google's new CEO urging the company take the lead by supporting the legislation. Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and John M. Simpson, director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group's Privacy Project, wrote:
An array of Internet firms like Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. collect data about users' online behavior to serve up the sort of advertisements they're most likely to click on. The information generally isn't connected to actual names, but the practice has nonetheless grown increasingly controversial, as it's become clear how much data is gathered and how much it reveals.
A number of advocacy groups are backing the bill, including Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Rights Clearing House, Common Sense Media and the California Consumer Federation.
If the bill is approved, all connected devices would be affected, including personal computers, tablets, smart phones and Internet TVs. This would seem to require technical updates to an array of existing gadgets, including millions of Apple Inc. iPhones already in circulation.
Internet browser makers Microsoft and the Mozilla Foundation have already begun to build Do Not Track features into the latest versions of their products, suggesting companies could achieve compliance through software updates. When flipped on, these existing tools simply send a signal to websites when a user first arrives, saying they don't want their activity monitored.
Google, for its part, offers a downloadable extension that blocks the installation of many ad technologies for its Chrome browser. The shortcoming of the browser-based Do Not Track tools, besides not appearing on all devices, is that ad companies don't have any obligation to abide by these stated preferences. A number of marketing companies have begun working with the browser makers on voluntary solutions, but they remain just that.
A growing number of legislators, regulators and consumer advocates argue that individuals should, at least, have the legal right to remove themselves from this tracking if they want to.
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