FTC Mulls Browser-Based Block for Online Ads

The Federal Trade Commission is looking for a way to protect consumers’ privacy from online advertisers that use behavior-based data to target Internet users for particular online advertisements.

But as eCommerce Guide reports, the FTC has been largely hamstrung by the extremely effective lobbying efforts of online advertisers that are determined to keep mining this reservoir of data that consumers often don’t know they’re sharing and would prefer to keep private.

Right now, one option under discussion is a browser-based “kill switch” that would essentially allow Internet users to opt out of any behavioral tracking as they bounce from website to website. Many ecommerce and social networking sites already have begrudgingly installed opt-out functionality on their sites, but FTC officials said it would be much more effective to give users the ability to opt out from any browser they’re using rather than doing it in painstaking, piecemeal fashion.

While the FTC’s authority and rulemaking prowess remains largely symbolic at this point, at the minimum the government agency could use its high profile as a “bully pulpit” to get the private sector to implement some type of universal privacy protection mechanism.

As it prepares a major report with guidelines for protecting consumer privacy online, the Federal Trade Commission is mulling a simple mechanism that would allow users to opt out of behavioral tracking across the Web, the head of the agency told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said the system would be similar to the Do-Not-Call registry that enables consumers to shield their phone numbers from telemarketers.

The agency has been conducting a series of workshops regarding online privacy and advertising for several months, and plans to release a report detailing its recommendations later this fall. Throughout those sessions, Leibowitz said that staffers consistently heard from consumers and advocacy groups that online privacy controls need to be simpler than the current options.

“To this end, one idea we may explore in the context of behavioral advertising is a do-not-track mechanism that’s more comprehensive and easier to use than the procedures currently available,” Leibowitz told members of the Senate Commerce Committee. “Under such a mechanism, users could opt out of behavioral advertising more easily rather than having to make choices on website-by-website basis.”

Read the full story at eCommerce Guide:

FTC Leaning Toward Do-Not-Track List for Online Ads

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