April 6, 2011, 2:29 PM

California introduces a do-not-track privacy bill

The state considers a law that would give consumers more control over online browsing data.

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The California State Legislature is considering a law that would give consumers more control over how their online behavior is tracked and shared with marketers and retailers. An amendment added this week to a business practices bill introduced earlier in the legislative session by state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat, could put California at the forefront of the debate over consumer privacy online.

The bill would require any company doing business with consumers in California to tell consumers how their online activity and personal information is being collected, used and stored, and provide them a method to opt out of letting companies track their behavior or use that information. Non-compliant companies would face civil penalties.  The bill offers few specifics about the prohibitions, but says that the California attorney general’s office would develop rules and an enforcement plan.

The legislative move at the state level comes as similar measures are under consideration in Washington. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat, and Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Republican, last month said they would introduce separate bills designed to give consumers more control over data related to their online browsing activities.

85% of advertising agencies and marketers use ad-targeting techniques, according to a January survey from AudienceScience, a firm that helps online marketers reach targeted groups of consumers. 67% of U.S. Internet users favor a do-not-track policy that would prevent advertisers from tracking their online behavior, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in December.

California has a reputation for enacting consumer rights and privacy-related laws ahead of Washington. In 2002, California passed a law that created a Do Not Call Registry for California residents. When the Federal Trade Commission created the national Do-Not-Call List in 2003, California folded its efforts into the national program.

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