FCC Asked to Get Tough on Do-Not-Track

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SACRAMENTO — The Santa Monica-based group Consumer Watchdog petitioned the Federal Communications Commission this week for rules that would force companies such as Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. to comply with do-not-track requests sent by web surfers' browsers.

Such efforts haven't gone far in the past. California dabbled with legislation that tried to encourage websites to at least disclose how they respond to do-not-track signals. But it hasn't changed sites' practices in any meaningful way.

Skeptics might say this effort will be about as successful as do-not-call laws. But Consumer Watchdog's privacy project director, John Simpson, wants you to know his organization is as serious as the grave about its FCC request.

"We don't put in petitions just to pass the time of day," Simpson told reporters. "We wouldn't have put it in if we didn't think we had some solid legal reasoning behind it and some very good likelihood that it will get some positive attention."

Consumer Watchdog argues that new net-neutrality rules that extend privacy protections to Internet service providers such as Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. should be applied to so-called edge providers, including Google, Yahoo Inc. and Facebook. Simpson noted that while Comcast has about 23 million subscribers, about 210 million people in the United States and Canada use Facebook every month.

"While the privacy protection for the ISPs is tremendously important, it's equally important, perhaps more important, that privacy rights should be extended to reach out and touch … the Googles and Facebooks."

Simpson conceded that although Consumer Watchdog lawyers believe the FCC petition is strong, just raising the issue of do-not-track publicly might encourage some sites to comply with users' requests.

Messages left with Facebook and Google representatives were not returned.

Contact the reporter at [email protected].

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