February 23, 2012, 12:06 PM

Do-not-track web privacy efforts gain momentum

Google and the White House announce online privacy moves.

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President Obama proposed today a “bill of rights” aimed at protecting consumers’ privacy that would give consumers more control over how their information is collected and used online. The White House also says leading Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and major ad networks, have agreed to abide by do-not-track requests made by online shoppers.

Following the announcement, the Digital Advertising Alliance, an umbrella group of seven trade associations representing the online marketing industry, said it is beginning to develop tools that enable consumers using  web browsers software to make their privacy preferences easily known. The Digital Advertising Alliance says it expects the program to be ready in nine months. The Alliance is the group behind the AdChoices program that lets consumers opt out of having ads targeted to them based on their online behavior

Google says it will embed a “do-not-track” button in its Chrome web browser that will let users restrict the amount of data collected about them. Google did not say when the button would begin to appear, and the search engine declined to detail how exactly the button would work. "We’re pleased to join a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls,” says Google senior vice president of advertising Susan Wojcicki.

A browser-based do-not-track button is different from the online advertising industry’s previous effort to address privacy concerns through self-regulation, the voluntary program from the Digital Advertising Alliance called AdChoices. Participants in the AdChoices program are supposed to display a trademarked Advertising Options icon on advertisements shown to consumers based on their online behavior. Clicking the icon connected consumers to a web site where they could read more about how their data is used for advertising purposes and opt out of receiving these kinds of targeted ads. The browser-based option would be a clearer and simpler way to tell consumers about how their data is used online, the Digital Advertising Alliance says.

The browser-based do-not-track effort supports elements of a consumer privacy “bill of rights” outlined by President Obama today. The document emphasizes an individual’s right to control the personal data about them that is collected how it is used, and that consumers have access to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices. The White House says the next step is for the U.S. Commerce Department to work with companies, consumer advocates, technical experts and academics, among others, to find ways to implement these rights.

The White House plan follows the introduction of several bills in Congress that address consumers’ online privacy.  

April Anderson, industry director for retail at Google, will speak June 6 at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.

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