FTC Proposes Limits on Web Tracking

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — In recent years, consumers have become more open about putting personal information about themselves online, whether it be on social networks, company pages or in e-mails. But the downside is that much of this personal information can and has been leaked to advertisers and online businesses.

Now the government is looking to give you a way to stop this from happening.

The Federal Trade Commission released a new set of proposals Wednesday to help people protect their privacy online. One of the proposals is to introduce a “Do Not Track” mechanism to make it easy for people to “opt out of the collection of information about their Internet behavior for targeted ads.”

While the proposal has yet to be finalized, the report suggests that this feature would be built into Internet browsers, and, if selected by the user, it would essentially tell online businesses not to track their personal data and it would stop advertisers from using that data to target specific promotions toward the user.

Search engines like Google have made billions by serving targeted ads based on information that users have previously searched for or typed in e-mails.  Meanwhile, popular websites like Facebook, MySpace and Digg have all been found to leak personal information about users to third-party advertisers who can use this data to find out where users live, where they work and other potentially unsettling facts.

The FTC is also proposing that online businesses limit their collection and retention of personal data and give consumers a simply worded option to decline handing over their personal data while they are doing it, rather than in the form of a long privacy agreement well beforehand. Moreover, the proposals would also offer consumers “reasonable access” to any personal information that the company has on them.

“The FTC wants to help ensure that the growing, changing, thriving information marketplace is built on a framework that promotes privacy, transparency, business innovation and consumer choice,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a press release. “We believe that’s what most Americans want as well.”

The FTC will be accepting public feedback on these proposals for the next two months before finalizing the report.

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