By Emily Borgen

Legislation was reintroduced in the Senate last week that would allow Internet users to opt out of certain forms of online tracking.  The bill [PDF] was previously introduced in 2011.

The “Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2013,” introduced on February 27 by Senators Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would require the Federal Trade Commission to create rules for the implementation of a mechanism that would enable an individual to “simply and easily indicate whether [the] individual prefers to have personal information collected by providers of online services” — in other words, a “Do Not Track” mechanism.  The FTC rules, which would generally prohibit collecting information from users who have opted out of such collection, would be enforced by the FTC and state attorneys general.

The bill contains two exceptions that would permit entities to collect and use information collected online from users who have enabled the do not track mechanism.  First, entities would be permitted to collect information necessary to the “basic functionality and effectiveness” of a requested service, so long as the information is anonymized or deleted after the provision of the service.  Second, the bill would permit entities to request that users opt-in to collection and use of their information; in other words, entities would be permitted to collect information from users who opt in regardless of whether those users had enabled the Do Not Track mechanism.

The timing of the bill’s reintroduction is significant for at least two reasons.  First, this month marks one year since the release of the FTC’s report in which the FTC urged industry to create a do not track mechanism.  In statements made around the time of the report’s release, FTC commissioners suggested that the agency might support Do Not Track legislation if industry did not establish such a mechanism on its own.  Second, just last month, reports emerged that the principal effort at developing an industry-based Do Not Track mechanism — the W3C’s Tracking Protection Working Group — was beginning to make substantial progress in finalizing its specifications.  Additional progress by this group could affect further calls for legislation.