McCain, Kerry back online privacy bill

A digital lock symbolizes Internet crime and online fraud.

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: A couple of powerful Senators are circulating an internet privacy bill. Reports are this morning Ariz. Republican John McCain and Mass. Democrat John Kerry want, among other things, to force companies to seek permission before sharing your personal information on the web.

They'll bring up the idea at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing next week.

Julia Angwin is a tech reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She's with us from Washington. Good morning.

JULIA ANGWIN: Good morning.

CHIOTAKIS: What kind of things are ad companies finding out about us?

ANGWIN: Quite a lot. Pretty much your web browsing behavior and then what they've been doing is adding to those files by buying data about your income, lifestyle, how many cars you have, how many kids and trying to match those two data sets. And the amount of data keeps increasing. Now they're collecting data from your cell phone, television, pretty soon there won't be anything that won't be collecting data about you.

CHIOTAKIS: So what does this proposal then from Senators Kerry and McCain do about that?

ANGWIN: They're basically establishing some rights around what data can people collect and under what circumstances. And the two biggest changes are basically that companies would have to give you access to your data. So if you called them up and said, "What do you know about me?" they would have to tell you. They currently don't. And the other thing is that they can't resell your data to some other person without asking your permission.

CHIOTAKIS: I can't imagine, though, you know these ad companies are going to find a way to get around that right?

ANGWIN: You know, I don't think actually most people are really worried about the advertising. I think that the concern is who are they selling that to later. If they sell it to your health insurer, if they sell it to government to do analysis about you -- I think a lot of concerns about data concern are about where it's going to end up, not so much about the current state of play, which is where marketers are showing you ads for things you like.

CHIOTAKIS: And what do we do if we don't want this kind of data collected? What can we do right now before any legislation is passed?

ANGWIN: Well the easiest thing to do is to install some software on your computer that blocks tracking. It'll keep all of these trackers off your machine. And then the second thing you can do which is a lot harder is try to get out of all these databases that contain your income, and all of that. And those are really hard to get out of. You can hire somebody basically like a company like Reputation.com to try to get you out of them, or you could write letters to all of them, saying "take me out of there."

CHIOTAKIS: Julia Angwin, tech writer for the Wall Street Journal. Thanks

ANGWIN: Thank you.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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