Two senators who don't always see eye to eye are teaming up on online privacy.
John Kerry (Mass.-D) and John McCain (Ariz. -R), a pair of long-serving senators, introduced a bill that would give consumers more power over how much of their information is collected. The bill would thwart many data collection practices in the online world; specifically data mining. Data mining is used by companies who take consumer's information off apps through web cookies and sell them to advertisers, who sell personalized advertisements on platforms like Facebook.
John and I start with a bedrock belief that protecting Americans' personal, private information is vital to making the Information Age everything it should be, Senator Kerry said in a statement. Americans have a right to decide how their information is collected, used, and distributed and businesses deserve the certainty that comes with clear guidelines.
The bill would force data collectors on the web to take in only as much information as need by to process or enforce a transaction or deliver a service. It would allow for more information to be retained within a certain amount of time as long as it improves the service. The bill would force companies which collect data to include an opt-out provision for consumers.
According to the bill, the State Attorneys General and the Federal Trade Commission would enforce its provisions, but not simultaneously. It would also prevent private rights of action.
Our legislation sets forth a framework for companies to create such an environment and allows businesses to continue to market and advertise to all consumers, including potential customers, Senator McCain said in a statement. However, the bill does not allow for the collection and sharing of private data by businesses that have no relationship to the consumer for purposes other than advertising and marketing.
Conspicuous by its absence in the Kerry-McCain bill is the famous Do-Not Track add-on that has been supported by consumer watchdog groups, various browsers and the FTC. Do-Not-Track would allow consumers to block all tracking and collecting of their information, a la the Do-Not-Call list for phone solicitation.
The lack of Do Not Track in the bill drew the ire of a group of consumer advocacy groups. We strongly believe that any privacy bill should direct the Federal Trade Commission to require and enforce a 'Do Not Track Me' mechanism. Consumers should have the right to use the Internet and mobile devices with confidence that their privacy choices are respected, and with anonymity if they choose, Consumer Watchdog President John M. Simpson wrote, in a letter to the senators.
As a result, consumer privacy groups said they could not support the bill. However, the senators did get support from big tech companies like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and eBay.
We are pleased that Senator Kerry and Senator McCain, both long-time advocates for strong consumer privacy protections, have introduced the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2011. We support the bill and look forward to working with Congress as it moves forward, the four companies said in a joint statement.
Telecommunications giant Verizon called the bill a great start. Policymakers and all those invested in the issue should continue to develop privacy principles with the consumer in mind, while allowing continued growth and innovation across the Internet marketplace, said Peter Davidson, Verizon senior vice president of federal government relations, in a statement. We look forward to working with Senators Kerry and McCain and other members of Congress as this legislation moves forward.