Legislators mull Internet freedom, privacy measures

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers examining the Federal Trade Commission’s recommendation for a “do not track” mechanism to restrict the monitoring of Internet users said they supported stricter safeguards for consumer privacy, but raised questions on how the system would work.

Many also expressed concern it would undermine one of the main pillars of the Internet’s growth — the development of free, advertising-supported content.

Even within the FTC itself, there is not unanimous support for a do-not-track effort. William Kovacic, a Republican commissioner who was the agency’s chairman during the last year of the Bush administration, concurred with the decision to release the FTC report on Wednesday. But he added that he believed the do-not-track recommendation was “premature,” and that the commission needed to present “greater support for the proposition that consumer expectations of privacy are largely going unmet.”

Some Democrats in the House and the Senate, however, have already embraced the idea of a do-not-track mechanism. On Thursday, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said he would introduce a bill that would put in place such a system to prevent the tracking of children using the Internet.

Officials from the trade commission and the Commerce Department, which is preparing its own report about online privacy for release before the end of the year, said they have not yet seen examples of enhanced privacy measures affecting advertising revenues.

“There are more and more companies that are offering users some kind of opt-out, enhanced-notice mechanism, and I don’t believe we’ve seen dramatic fall-off of advertising revenues as a result,” said Daniel Weitzner, associate administrator for policy at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a bureau in the Commerce Department that is preparing the report. He acknowledged that caution was required.

Some companies that sell advertising agreed. Joan Gillman, an executive vice president at Time Warner Cable, said in a statement to the subcommittee that “do-not-track could hinder job creation within the advertising industry and by websites that rely on advertising revenues.”