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Do-not-track list proposed for Web

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KAI RYSSDAL: You've heard of the national "Do-Not-Call" list -- a way to keep telemarketers from breaking up the dinner hour. Today, a coalition of consumer privacy groups pushed for the creation of a national "Do-Not-Track" list, to stop Internet companies from tracking personal behavior online.

From Washington, Marketplace's Steve Henn explains.


Steve Henn: Right now, online advertisers can record your click stream, monitor your online wish lists and generally follow you around on the Web. And the technology is evolving.

Leslie Harris: Put it this way: It's not your grandmother's cookie.

Leslie Harris is runs the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Harris: Your have features that go way beyond cookies.

Cookies are little bits of code implanted on your computer that track you online. Marketers can combine these and other devises with your name, and build personal profiles.

Chances are, you'll have no idea any of this is going on, unless you're the kind of geek who reads the fine print in privacy policies. Harris says right now, consumers can opt out of this online tracking -- but:

Harris: If you don't know you are being tracked, the likelihood of opting out of being tracked is diminished.

So Harris and others want the FTC to require any company that monitors behavior online to register their network servers. That list of servers would be public, and Internet surfers could use it to prevent intrusive online advertisers from gaining access to their computers. Not surprisingly, advertisers hate this idea. Mark Zaneis lobbies for the industry:

Mark Zaneis: This is a solution searching for a problem.

Zaneis insists consumers love ads that are tailored to their wants and desires. And he says if they want more privacy online, advertisers will give it to them. AOL announced enhanced privacy options today -- to register, all you have to do is put a special cookie on your computer.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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