Regulatory Reform

“Do Not Track” and Do Not Regulate

If you enable “Do Not Track” functions on your web browser, does that mean websites will not use cookies or other analytic devices to gather data about you and your Internet browsing habits?

Of course it doesn’t.

Should the fact that a number of websites ignore “Do Not Track” requests give rise to federal government regulation?

Of course it shouldn’t.

Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission agrees. Recently, the FCC declined a non-profit’s request for additional regulations. The group, Consumer Watchdog, asked the FCC to regulate websites such as Facebook, Netflix and others that ignore “Do Not Track” requests.

Most browsers, including Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer offer users the ability to enable such “Do Not Track” functionalities. If users enable the function, they send a message asking websites not to deploy cookies and other analytic services to the users’ computers. Websites are free to honor the requests or ignore them, just as consumers are free to use the websites or ignore them.

Consumer Watchdog’s petition is predicated on the FCC’s Title II reclassification order—the so-called Open Internet or Net Neutrality Order. Consumer Watchdog also alleged that “consumers are concerned about the privacy practices” of all web-based businesses.

If the FCC granted the petition, the consequences of its decision would have been significant. Instead of simply applying Title II reclassification to Internet service providers, such as Comcast, Frontier, AT&T and Verizon, any regulation of “Do Not Track” requests would expand reclassification regulations to include websites and other services such as Netflix.

Netflix, for example, does not provide Internet services. It provides movies, television shows and other creative content on demand for its customers. Similarly, Facebook is not an Internet service provider. It is a social network, linking its users with each other.

Privacy is, and should remain, in the hands of individuals who use the Internet. The tools exist. Most of them are free. These tools include Adblock Plus, Ghostery, Privacy Badger and others.

The FCC declined to regulate websites like Facebook and Netflix, stating that it “has no intent to regulate” providers of such services. The FCC deserves praise for not regulating, for once, an industry where there is no need for regulations.

In Depth: Regulatory Reform

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said that “the sum of good government” was one “which shall restrain men from injuring one another” and “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry.” Sadly, governments – both federal and state – have ignored this axiom and…

+ Regulatory Reform In Depth