CDT Proposes That FTC Create a Do Not Track List for Consumer Internet Use

October 31, 2007. Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and other groups submitted to the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) a comment [7 pages in PDF] titled "Consumer Rights and Protections in the Behavioral Advertising Sector". The FTC is holding a two day workshop on November 1-2, 2007, titled "Ehavioral Advertising: Tracking, Targeting, and Technology".

The CDT and others argue that online tracking and targeting of consumers threatens their privacy rights, and that the FTC should "take proactive steps to adequately protect consumers", including through the creation of "a national Do Not Track List similar to the national Do Not Call List".

The CDT seeks regulation of the "collection, use, maintenance, and disclosure of personal and behavioral information for marketing purposes". The document pertains to consumers' "browser or other network access device".

It defines "behavioral tracking" as the "practice of collecting and compiling a record of individual consumers' activities, interests, preferences, and/or communications over time."

The CDT's comment explains its proposed "No Not Track List". It first states that "Any advertising entity that sets a persistent identifier on a user device should be required to provide to the FTC the domain names of the servers or other devices used to place the identifier."

Then, "Companies providing web, video, and other forms of browser applications should provide functionality ... that allows users to import or otherwise use the Do Not Track List of domain names, keep the list up-to-date, and block domains on the list from tracking their Internet activity."

Nothing in this CDT document objects to online tracking for purposes other than "marketing". The CDT does not in this document propose the regulation of practices that track internet users for network security, law enforcement, employee monitoring, national security, or other non-marketing purposes.

The other groups that endorsed this proposal include Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Privacy Activism, Privacy Journal, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Information Research, and World Privacy Forum.

The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), which represents online advertising companies, responded to this proposal in a release. It wrote that "This proposal for a government-run blacklist would break both the basic functionality and economic models of most, if not all, e-commerce and content-driven consumer websites. It would also make much of the personalization available on the web's most popular sites, enjoyed by millions, a thing of the past."

Numerous other individuals and groups submitted comments to the FTC in advance of its November 1-2 workshop. See, FTC web page with hyperlinks to comments.

Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University, and a frequent participant in privacy and surveillance related debates, submitted a comment urging the FTC to incorporate privacy analysis into antitrust analysis.

A group of commenters at Stanford University submitted a comment that offers a technical explanation of some browser based privacy problems.

See also, related story in this issue titled "Industry Groups Advocate Self-Regulation of Online Adverting Practices"