But recent legislative and regulatory developments could recommend a different course for companies with a significant online presence. Companies may want to prepare to change their practices when it comes to the collection and use of consumer data obtained through tracking consumers’ online activities.
The announcement of the FTC’s settlement with Chitika comes on the heels of preliminary Senate committee hearings on online consumer privacy. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation began hearings in March on the state of online consumer privacy and the potential need for protective statutory measures. The initial hearings, held March 16, focused on how online consumer information is collected, maintained and used.
At the March 16 hearings, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz testified on the Commission’s December 2010 report on consumer online protections, which outlines the FTC’s Do Not Track program. The program – reflected in enhanced consumer controls of online tracking by Microsoft and Mozilla – would allow consumers to choose not to have their Internet browsing tracked by third parties.
Do Not Track is currently being promoted by the FTC, along with other measures, to inform consumers of safeguards against unwanted collection of personal data. With or without additional legislation, the Commission, according to Leibowitz’s testimony and the December 2010 report, is actively engaging in proactive measures to change consumer and business practices online and to undertake enforcement actions against companies whose data collection and dissemination may violate current laws.