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White House releases 'privacy bill of rights': what it promises online consumers

While falling short of law, the consumer 'privacy bill of rights' would give consumers 'new legal and technical tools to safeguard their privacy,' according to the White House. 

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The Digital Advertising Alliance, an online advertising consortium whose members include Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and others, announced Thursday that it would add features to browsers that would let consumers modify their preferences on how their data would be used. The group also pledged within nine months to create a feature for web browsers that lets consumers choose a "do-not-track" option.

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That latter measure was a big step in the right direction for privacy advocates.

"For five years Center for Democracy and Technology has pushed for the development of a reliable 'Do Not Track' mechanism; today's Digital Advertising Alliance announcement is an important step toward making 'Do Not Track' a reality for consumers," said Justin Brookman, the center's director of consumer privacy in a statement. "The industry deserves credit for this commitment, though the details of exactly what 'Do Not Track' means still need to be worked out," he added.

The White House move also comes as states attorneys general begin a concerted push for new measures to restrict the tracking and collection of private data. Attorneys general from 36 states and territories sent a letter Feb. 22 to Google president Larry Page raising questions about the company's plan to consolidate user data beginning March 1.

"The new policy forces consumers to allow information across all of these products to be shared, without giving them the ability to opt out," the letter said. The letter continued: "This invasion of privacy is virtually impossible to escape for the nation's Android-powered smartphone users, who comprise nearly 50 percent of the national smartphone market."

Just last week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed suit to force the Federal Trade Commission to require Google "to honor its previous commitments" to Google users. But Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC, was pleased with the White House move.

The do-not-track option, he told Reuters, was "the clearest articulation of the right to privacy by a U.S. president in history."

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