The FTC’s Proposal for the Implementation of an Online “Do-Not-Track” Option is Entirely Premature

The Federal Trade Commission’s proposal to implement an online “Do-Not-Track” option that would allow consumers to opt-out of all third-party tracking and behaviorally-targeted advertising is entirely premature.

In December, the FTC suggested that Do-Not-Track mechanisms should take the form of an add-on in Web browsers, enabling consumers to check a box that would state their preference to opt-out of tracking as they use the Internet.  According to the FTC, such a universal mechanism would prevent consumers from having to opt-out on a “company-by-company or industry-by-industry basis.” 

The need for additional consumer education and less ambiguous privacy policies is clear.  However, the concept of a broad-sweeping and universal Do-Not-Track mechanism would impact basic functionality on eCommerce sites because cookies help move a shopper from selecting products onto the shopping cart.  While the aspirations of the FTC are understandable, the overly-broad and premature solution of what essentially amounts to an “on-off” switch will enormously disrupt the personal consumer experience with their favorite online merchants.  

Recent privacy-enhancing practices and technologies adopted by businesses aware of the advantages of self-regulation over prescriptive rules, such as the addition of advertising and tracking opt-out icons on commercial websites, have been positive.    The Internet marketing industry must continue in this direction and take the concept of self-regulation seriously.  It sure beats the alternative – restrictive regulation.

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