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Do Not Track Me, Says Consumer Watchdog

Wall Street Journal Article Shows Extensive Data Sharing By Companies

The 'Do Not Track Me' function proposed in the Federal Trade Commission's recently released online privacy report must be extended to include smartphones, Consumer Watchdog said today in the wake of a Wall Street Journal article showing how applications for the iPhone and Android phones widely share personal data without the users' knowledge or consent.

The Journal's investigation, which appeared in Saturday's edition, found an "intrusive effort by online-tracking companies to gather personal data about people in order to flesh out detailed dossiers on them."

"Most consumers don't realize it, but the smartphone in the pocket has become a spy for advertising companies," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Advocate with the nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group, Consumer Watchdog.

Two of the biggest mobile advertising networks are Google's AdMob and Apple's iAd. Many of the "apps" available for smartphones don't even offer the most basic type of consumer protection, a written privacy policy.

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"While most privacy policies are difficult to understand on the wired Internet, the companies are at least paying lip service to the concept of notifying consumers about how their data is used as they surf the Web," said Simpson. "The mobile world is truly the wild frontier; companies don't even bother to pretend. Consumers have no protection at all. Do Not Track Me is not a panacea, but it would offer clear easy-to-use privacy protection for consumers."

At a Congressional hearing on the possibility of Do Not Track Me legislation earlier this month, David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said a Do Not Track Me function for consumers to use while surfing the Web from their computers is both feasible and enforceable. Microsoft recently announced it would offer a Do Not Track feature in the next release of its Internet browser, Internet Explorer 9. Several members of Congress, both in the house and the Senate are considering introducing Do Not Track Me Legislation.

Consumer Watchdog has been working to protect consumers' online privacy rights and educate them about the issues through its Inside Google Project. The goal has been to convince Google of the social and economic importance of giving consumers control over their online lives. By persuading Google, the Internet's leading company, to adopt adequate guarantees, its policies could become the gold standard for privacy for the industry, potentially improving the performance of the entire online sector.

Consumer Watchdog, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, DC and Santa Monica, CA.

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