Wall Street Journal
by STEVE STECKLOW
December 2, 2010
Legislation set to be introduced early next year would prohibit companies from tracking children on the Internet without parental consent.
Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat, plans to propose legislation that, if passed, would go well beyond current federal law that requires websites aimed at children under 13 to obtain parental permission before collecting personal information such as kids' names or email addresses.
"For many kids today, the Internet is like online oxygen," says Rep. Markey. "To ensure that kids are protected, I plan to introduce legislation next year that will include a 'Do Not Track' requirement so that kids do not have their online behavior tracked or their personal information collected or profiled. I look forward to working with my colleagues to move this legislation forward."
The plan by Mr. Markey is part of a swirl of recent activity on the Internet privacy front. He is expected to discuss his proposal at a House hearing Thursday on the feasibility of establishing a simple way for consumers to prevent data companies from monitoring their online activities. On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission called for the development of a do-not-track system.
Details of Mr. Markey's bill-whose prospects remain unclear-are still being worked out, including whether it would apply to teenagers.
Staffers are working with Common Sense Media, a non-profit that rates movies, television shows, websites and other content aimed at kids. In addition to prohibiting the tracking of kids, the group supports developing an "eraser button" that would allow children and teens to delete information they have posted online about themselves. The group also favors a ban on "behavioral marketing" to kids-ads targeted at children based on their online activities.
"Without most kids and parents knowing it, companies collect, store and sell information about what kids do online and on mobile phones," says James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media. "That is unfair and deceptive."
The Wall Street Journal, as part of its "What They Know" series, in September reported that popular children's websites install more tracking technologies on personal computers than do the top websites aimed at adults.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, says it opposes any effort to identify computer users as children and target them. The group argues that the advertising industry can police itself.
An IAB official says the industry would consider applying current data-collection restrictions to kids older than 12.
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