FCC can't, or won't, impose Do Not Track on Google, Facebook

The FCC is sometimes seen as the enemy and sometimes as the advocate of consumer rights and interests, depending on which side of the fence you're on. Or on which issue. Recently, its new net neutrality rules have put it on not so friendly terms with some in the Internet and tech businesses. But this latest statement might earn it back some points, at the expense of irking some privacy advocates. It has said that it won't be imposing rules on Internet companies that would block or hinder them from tracking user's online activities.

User activity tracking has been one of the most contentious and criticized methods used by companies that offer online services, like Google, Facebook, and even Microsoft's Bing. Some use it to gather usage statistics to improve their services. Other use it to gather marketing information for targeted ads. Some even do both. While there are legal limits to what they can harvest, privacy groups always fear hidden abuse.

"Do No Track" features have become popular among certain Internet software, particularly browsers. However, while such a feature would, in theory, prevent activity from being recorded, it relies on websites and services to actually respect the user's wishes. As one can imagine, not everyone does.

Last June, Consumer Watchdog asked the FCC to put its foot down on the matter and officially recommend that websites support Do Not Track features. This would, in effect, make it a standard across the country. The FCC did put its foot down, but in the other direction. It said that it doesn't regulate individual websites, only Internet providers. Some see this as a compromise the agency is placate worries that it is trying to regulate major Websites and services.

It doesn't help that there is also no standard for Do Not Track compliance in the first place, and advocates themselves are in disagreement as to what that would entail. Some go to the extreme of blocking all sorts of tracking activities while some try to take the middle road of blocking targeted ads but not data collection. Still, there are proposals, like the ones sitting at the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C, that are criticized for not offering any privacy protection at all.

SOURCE: The Washington Post