Internet privacy rights

WASHINGTON (AP) — The vast majority of sites on the World Wide Web fail to tell visitors how they use personal information collected during Internet surfing, the Federal Trade Commission has concluded.
In a report being released Thursday, the commission also recommended that Congress put into law restrictions on Web sites collecting information from and about children who use the Internet.
Experts had warned previously that the industry’s failure to adequately regulate itself on privacy issues could prompt the government to get involved.
“The commission now recommends that Congress develop legislation placing parents in control of the online collection and use of personal information from their children,” the report said.
“This report should serve as a wake-up call to the online industry,” said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of a House subcommittee on consumer protection. “Either you develop voluntary new privacy guidelines or run the risk that Congress will do it for you.”
The FTC study of 1,400 randomly selected Web sites found that 85 percent collect some form of personal information from consumers. But only 14 percent offered any notice about how the information is used, and fewer than 2 percent included a so-called comprehensive privacy policy.
“The statistics tell us that self-regulation has not resulted in real privacy protections on the Internet,” said Deirdre Mulligan, staff counsel at the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Technology.
A Web site described in the FTC report solicited children to give their name, address, e-mail address, age and whether they have received gifts of stocks, cash, savings bonds or certificates of deposit.
“The Web site does not tell children to ask permission before providing information,” the report said.
Tauzin said such “exploitation of children is unacceptable.”
By far, most of the information that Web sites collect is requested in obvious fashion, with consumers asked to fill out a form on a page.
But information can be gathered behind the scenes: Typically, it includes the kind of software people use, the Internet provider they use and what Web site had steered them to the current page.
“A lot of it is strong-armed,” said Beth Givens, who runs the Privacy Rights Clearing House. She can’t visit her favorite newspaper site without disclosing personal information about herself.
“Since I really wanted to search articles from that newspaper, I gave the information,” she said. “A lot of people give false information, and quite proudly. It becomes a game.”