Lawmakers move forward with "do not track" bill

May 3, 2011 7:46:46 PM PDT
State lawmakers are looking into protections for anyone who surfs the Internet. A "do not track" privacy bill made it through a Senate committee Tuesday.

Whether you are on the Internet by computer or by smartphone, companies are collecting bits of information about you including where you've been and what you're buying and selling that data, often without your knowledge.

"I want what I do to be private; if I want to share that information with you, I'll tell you, but to have companies do it and you don't even know, it's a little scary," Internet user Courtney Vasquez said.

The Senate Judiciary committee took a big step in protecting Californians' online privacy by approving a first in the nation 'Do Not Track' proposal requiring a simple opt-out feature on search engines to tell website operators you don't want your online habits monitored.

The vote puts California in the forefront of the fight for more internet privacy and allows consumers to sue companies for violations.

"Tracking technology is getting smarter and more intrusive," State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said.

But TechNet, which represents some of the biggest Internet giants in the country, thinks the opt-out mandate hurts the fastest growing part of the California economy. The trade group says data collecting allows companies to target advertising to specific users and a 'Do Not Track' restriction could mean a multi-billion dollar hit.

"We believe this bill, SB 761, is the equivalent of Texas stopping the oil industry; California's tech industry is of equal importance," TechNet spokesperson Fred Main said.

Consumer groups point out the 'Do Not Call' law did not bring down the telemarketing industry and that it's time to stop unauthorized tracking.

"It's a bill that will finally get our privacy rights into the digital age," Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project spokesperson John Simpson said. "We have a Constitutional right to privacy in this age. But the law hasn't kept pace with what's going on on the Internet."

Three of the four major browsers have or are about to have an opt-out feature but it's voluntary, depending on solely or totally on the good will of the tracking companies. Lowenthal says he's willing to work with the tech industry to address fears of economic harm.

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