Commerce Department tackles online privacy

The Commerce Department proposes creating a new office to oversee online privacy.

Aiming to set ground rules for companies that collect personal data online and use that information for marketing purposes, the U.S. Commerce Department is calling for the creation of an online privacy “bill of rights” for internet users.

The proposal, outlined in a Commerce Department report issued Dec. 16, is intended to address growing unease about the vast amounts of personal data that companies are scooping up on the internet, from web browsing habits to smart phone locations to Facebook preferences. The information often is mined to help companies better target their advertising—a practice that has children’s advocacy groups in particular calling for more online privacy safeguards.

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The Commerce Department proposal is intended to guide lawmakers, industry executives, and a White House group looking at issues of online privacy and internet policy.

It comes two weeks after the Federal Trade Commission recommended the creation of a “Do Not Track” tool to let consumers stop or restrict advertisers from studying their online activity—including the websites they visit, the links they click, their internet searches, and their online purchases—in order to target ads.

The new Commerce Department report proposes the creation of a broad framework for industry behavior to ensure that companies give consumers clear notice about what personal data they are collecting and exactly how they are using this information.

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