ONLINE PRIVACY: ‘Web Bugs’ Cause Concern in Congress, Prompt Legislation
Millions of Americans "unwittingly transmit personal information" to ad agencies as they surf the Internet, a computer privacy expert told the Senate Commerce Committee this week, testimony that has spurred lawmakers to consider privacy legislation. Richard Smith, a security and privacy consultant and investigator for an Internet privacy study released in February by the California HealthCare Foundation, explained that Drkoop.com was one of several health Web sites to report his e-mail address and the fact that he was searching for diabetes information to advertising company DoubleClick. In addition, Smith indicated that personal information, such as social security numbers, often are transmitted to ad companies without consumers' knowledge. Committee member Richard Bryan (D-Nev.) said, "If local shops did things like this, we'd be outraged." Defending his company's actions, DoubleClick Privacy Officer Jules Polonetsky said that the company was not compiling consumer profiles, adding, "We don't save [the personal information], or keep it at all. It won't ever be involved in how we deliver ads" (Hopper, AP/Billings Gazette, 6/14). Legislators, however, remain concerned. In an effort to increase personal protection online, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) plans to introduce legislation requiring Web sites to "clearly tell consumers of their privacy rights." The bill would require sites to provide surfers a way to "opt out" of having personal information shared and calls for consumer accessibility to their profiles, including a way to correct any errors in their personal information (Squitieri, USA Today, 6/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.