The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has denied a petition that would force websites to honor Do Not Track requests by consumers. The petition was filed by the Consumer Watchdog, an organization designed to advocate for consumer interests.
In the FCC’s order, it stated, “The Commission has been unequivocal in declaring that it has no intent to regulate edge providers. We therefore find that, pursuant to section 1.401(e) of our rules, the Consumer Watchdog Petition ‘plainly does not warrant consideration by the Commission.’”
The concept of Do Not Track was first proposed by the Federal Trade Commission. A simple Do Not Track mechanism has been provided to users to decide whether or not websites have the ability to collect information about their online activity for purposes like targeted ads. The problem with this is that once a user sends out the message that they do not wish to have their data tracked, there is no way of telling whether their message was received or honored, and they just have to hope for the best, according to John M. Simpson, privacy project director for the Consumer Watchdog.
(Related: The EFF’s Do Not Track policy for browsers)
The Consumer Watchdog petitioned the FCC in hopes that it could bring real enforcement to honoring Do Not Track requests, and to penalize anyone who violated a request.
“You have four popular U.S. browsers: Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Chrome, and all of them have the capability of sending the Do Not Track message,” he said. “The fundamental issue is that nobody is under any obligation to honor your request. That is very troublesome, and in some ways it is worse than if there were no Do No Track at all because people send out the message and blindly assume people are honoring it, but most companies do not.”
Consumer Watchdog thought the FCC would be able to help solve the problem when it reclassified broadband and upheld net neutrality. “We got thinking about whether so called Section 222 [of the Communications Act], which protects the privacy of what is know as customer proprietary network information, should apply in some way to Internet companies as well as broadband.”
But the FCC isn’t yielding from its stance. “The Commission specified that in reclassifying BIAS [broadband internet access service], it was not ‘regulating the Internet, per se, or any Internet applications or content,’” according to the FCC’s order. The FCC added that Consumer Watchdog’s petition was inconsistent with the FCC’s reclassification of BIAS and the scope of privacy practices.
“We believe the FCC has the authority to enforce Internet privacy protections far more broadly than they have opted to do and are obviously disappointed by this decision,” said Simpson. “The concept of Do Not Track is straightforward, offers a meaningful situation, and does not break the Internet. It allows people to send a preference about how they want things to happen about data that involves them.”
Although this is a setback, Consumer Watchdog has no plans on giving up. According to Simpson, the organization is actively considering appealing the FCC’s decision, and considering other legislative options.
“This is not by any means the end of the fight,” he said. “We really believe that you, as a user of the Internet, have some say over how information is used and whether it is even gathered at all.”