Congress weighed in for the first time today on the FTC’s plan for a Do Not Track option for web browsing, and key Republicans weren’t exactly supportive of the idea. That skepticism could prove fatal to any legislation on Do Not Track, since the proposal is currently in a public comment period that lasts through Jan. 31. By that time, the lame duck session will have ended and the House of Representative will be under Republican control.
Bobby Rush, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee that considered the FTC’s proposal today, introduced the hearing by saying he had real concerns about consumers who “do not wish to be followed by digital snoopers and spies across various websites,” but his Republican colleagues showed decidedly less enthusiasm for turning the FTC’s report into legislation.
“I appreciate these hearings on the Do Not Track concept,” said Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield, the ranking minority member of the subcommittee considering the proposal, “because I don’t think we need legislation.” The subcommittee is part of the House Commerce Committee.
Whitfield said he’s opposed because there are competing privacy-control technologies available. In addition, targeted ads help pay for content, and are beneficial for consumers. “In order for internet content to stay free to consumers, it is supported by advertising,” he said. “I also assume most consumers would rather see advertisements they are interested in than advertisements they are not interested in.”
“Web tracking can provide valuable information to businesses and marketers,” said another Republican on the committee, Steve Scalise of Louisiana. “Consumers can enjoy a personalized web experience and receive ads tailored to their experience. And tracking and behavioral advertisements underwrite the internet itself [by supporting free services].”
The FTC has put forward its 122-page report [PDF] as a set of guidelines for industry and policymakers, and has not-as a commission-expressed support for a new law. But FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, a Democrat, has said that he personally is in favor of it.
The FTC’s position is that industry self-regulation isn’t sufficient to protect consumers from overly intrusive advertising practices. The commission, which includes three Democrats and two Republicans, voted 5-0 in favor of approving the privacy report. But one FTC Commissioner, Republican William Kovacic, voted in favor of the overall privacy report but wrote a concurring opinion specifically stating he does not support Do Not Track.