The United States’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has completed its final commission report on protecting consumer privacy; you can download it from here.

One key element is ‘do-not-track’, which means giving customers the right to switch off the tracking of what they do online. Whilst the FTC would be happy to see businesses adopt do-not-track on a voluntary basis, there is the threat it would be made mandatory otherwise. Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC, put it thus:

“We are confident that consumers will have an easy to use and effective Do Not Track option by the end of the year because companies are moving forward expeditiously to make it happen and because lawmakers will want to enact legislation if they don’t.”

However, the significance of do-not-track is perhaps not fully appreciated. Leibowitz clarified the choice he sees customers making when selecting do-not-track:

“Do Not Track from our perspective certainly means ‘do not collect’ — not ‘do not advertise back’…”

In other words, businesses that make money by gathering and analysing data simply will not have data on customers that select the do-not-track privacy option. This is a firmer stance than, say, collecting the data but not using it to choose adverts that match the customer’s profile. If customers routinely select the do-not-track option, they will blow a hole in a lot of data-driven online business models. Whilst the FTC’s attitude is clear, and they believe US legislators will back them, we can expect plenty of push back from businesses that feel threatened by do-not-track.

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