A new bill is trying to create a program similar to The Do Not Call list, except it would stop companies from tracking your online activities.
Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, announced on Monday he is introducing the Do Not Track Act. If approved, the bill would allow people to block companies from collecting data on their activity “beyond what is indispensable” for whatever services the company provides online.b
In 2009, internet activists first introduced the idea of putting “Do Not Track” message in HTTP headers, alerting companies that the user denies permission to track activity. The next year the Federal Trade Commission supported a Do Not Track program. But even though millions of people use Do Not Track—it doesn’t do anything, because there are no fines for breaking a Do Not Track request.
Hawley wants to expand Do Not Track beyond the browser. According to the senator’s office, this act would prevent businesses from creating profiles of or sharing information that belongs to customers, so long as the customers indicate that they want to be placed on the Do Not Track list. And it would prevent companies from discriminating against people who use Do Not Track. It’s unclear what kind of discrimination it might be preemptively barring but banning any sort of penalties for customers from the outset seems like a positive thing.
The bill suggests Americans could enroll in this service through an app or an option on their browser.
“Big tech companies collect incredible amounts of deeply personal, private data from people without giving them the option to meaningfully consent,” Hawley said, in a statement. “They have gotten incredibly rich by employing creepy surveillance tactics on their users, but too often the extent of this data extraction is only known after a tech company irresponsibly handles the data and leaks it all over the internet.”
Hawley bills himself as “a top critic of big tech’s data collection practices,” but he has been known to spread misinformation when going after tech companies. For instance, when he insisted Twitter submit to a third-party audit after he incorrectly surmised that Twitter suspended the anti-abortion film Unplanned.
His latest effort is less misguided. This sounds like a piece of legislation that actually addresses a serious problem. Hopefully, concerns over fines and penalties will change how companies collect data. Of course, bad actors will find a way to get around such a policy. Just consider how well the Do Not Call lists are blocking robocalls these days.