What difference would an online privacy bill of rights make?

Chinese people surfing the Internet in Beijing, 22 September 2007.

The idea of such a measure has been kicking around Washington for several years now. But as online tracking technology becomes more advanced and advertisers become more clever, the public is becoming increasingly nervous about just how much is known about them when they go online.

This week, the Obama administration urged Congress to approve a bill along these lines as soon as possible. This push came as Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are said to be preparing a bill to be introduced soon. With a push from the White House and bipartisan support in the Senate, the bill might stand a good chance but it's hard to say what would happen in the House.

But what, if any, difference would such a measure make? We talk to Deirdre Mulligan from University of California at Berkeley's School of Information. She says the ability of advertisers to gather data would be curtailed and that goes well beyond what you type into websites. It goes for your shopping history, where you go on Facebook, what apps you download. Your trail is easier to follow than you realize.

If no legislation were to pass, says Joseph Turow of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communications, the technology to track people would get more sophisticated. "People will begin to know if you have diabetes," he says, "Not because they see your prescription, but because of what you buy in the supermarket. They'll make statistical calculations about how heavy your kids are and give you coupons for discounts at fast food stores."

Also in this program, Georgia Tech researchers are studying whether talking robots are creepier than non-talking robots. (Spoiler alert: THEY ARE!)

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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