California Lawmaker Touts Do-not-track Bill

A state senator in California has introduced a bill that would allow Web surfers to opt out of online tracking efforts by websites and advertising networks.

State Senator Alan Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat, and Consumer Watchdog, a privacy group that supports the bill, detailed the bill in a press conference Monday. Lowenthal originally introduced a placeholder bill in February, then amended the bill March 24 to include new do-not-track language.

"Nearly 80 percent of Californians use the Internet and nearly 45 percent use Facebook -- including myself," Lowenthal said in a statement. "But today millions of Californians are unaware that their online behavior is being tracked; their data collected and sold to advertisers."

Lowenthal's legislation, designated as a computer spyware bill, would direct the California attorney general to adopt regulations requiring Web companies that collect personal data to allow users to opt out of data collection and online tracking.

The regulations would also require Web companies doing business in California to inform users of their collection and tracking efforts, and it would allow civil lawsuits against companies that fail to comply with the regulations.

The bill would hurt the Internet, said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice, an e-commerce trade group.

"Consumer Watchdog is backing a California version of do-not-track that would impose $1,000 class-action lawsuits for every technical violation," he said. "The plaintiff's bar in California must be salivating over this. And the bill lets the attorney general create new rules without hearings or showing evidence of harm."

In February, U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, introduced a similar bill in Congress that would direct the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to create standards for a nationwide do-not-track mechanism.

In December, the FTC recommended that the technology industry create a do-no-track tool for Web users. In the following months, Google, Mozilla and Microsoft all announced do-not-track features in their browsers. Those browsers offer simple ways for Web users to opt out of tracking efforts, said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's privacy director.

But websites are not required to honor the browsers' do-not-track instructions, Simpson said. The California bill "changes that and ensures consumers' choices will be honored," he added.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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