California Senator unveiling “Do Not Track” bill

by James Temple, San Francisco Chronicle

The momentum behind a "Do Not Track" mandate continues to build.

This morning, Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, will unveil proposed legislation that would force Internet companies doing business in the state to provide California consumers with a way to opt out of online monitoring.

An array of Internet firms like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft collect data about users’ online behavior to serve up the sort of advertisements they’re most likely to click on. The data generally isn’t connected to actual names, but the practice has nonetheless grown increasingly controversial, as it’s become clear how much information is actually gathered and how much it reveals.

A growing number of legislators and consumer and privacy advocates argue that individuals, at the very least, should have the right to remove themselves from this tracking if they so choose.

Lowenthal will discuss the bill publicly for the first time today at a press conference in Sacramento. He’ll be joined by representatives from groups backing the proposal, including Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Rights Clearing House, Common Sense Media and the California Consumer Federation.

The bill, SB 761, calls on the Attorney General, in consultation with the California Office of Privacy Protection, to "adopt regulations that would require … a person or entity doing business in California that collects, uses, or stores online data … from a consumer in this state, to provide a consumer in California with a method to opt out of that collection."

This is just the latest "Do Not Track" effort to surface in recent months. In March, both Microsoft and Mozilla released updated versions of their Internet browsers that provided a switch allowing users to tell Websites they didn’t want to be tracked, as we wrote about at the time.

Without any corresponding law, ad companies don’t have an actual obligation to abide by these stated preferences. But in the days since, a number of marketing companies have begun working with the browser makers on a voluntary solution.

Meanwhile, several federal bills are also moving forward, including a package introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

In March, the Obama administration asked Congress to pass a broader "privacy bill of rights," based on recommendations put forth by the Commerce Department late last year. Among other things, it proposed setting limits on what can be done with the personal data and requiring companies to be transparent about how such information is used.

The Federal Trade Commission is also weighing a plan that would require online companies to follow consumers’ Do Not Track requests, much like with the national Do Not Call registry.

So with all this underway, why is a state law necessary? John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog said it’s still unclear whether any of the federal measures will pass and, in any case, there’s no reason for the Golden State to wait. It could put pressure on federal legislators and regulators to catch up.

He noted that a law implementing the "Do Not Call" register, which many see as an analog to "Do Not Track," passed in California before a federal law was enacted.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll released in February found that most Americans are worried about privacy when using Facebook or Google. Almost seven out of 10 Facebook members and 52 percent of Google users said they are "somewhat" or "very concerned" about their privacy while using the services.