Although do not track has been compared with the Federal Communications Commission's successful National Do Not Call Registry implemented after numerous legal battles in 2004, Soghoian pointed out the former would include neither a government record of Web sites that track users nor a list of consumers who do not want to be tracked. "You want a generic opt-out that is persistent and tells people, 'leave me alone,'" he said.
Much Web security has been reactive—consumers receive pop-up ads, so the Web browsers start featuring pop-up blockers, and then the ad networks find a way to evade the barrier. "If we simply continue the arms race that we've had for the last few years, we don't get any relief, because it's not illegal to engage in a cat-and-mouse game and innovate around browser privacy controls," Soghoian said. "I like the idea of the consumer sending their privacy preference every time they interact with an ad network because that then gives the FTC a hook to go ahead and nail these companies for telling consumers they will obey their preferences and then not doing so."
Although many companies use privacy policies to explain their information practices, the policies have become long, legalistic disclosures that consumers usually do not read and do not understand if they do, according to the FTC. The idea of building a do-not-track mechanism into browsers adheres to the FTC report's recommendation that Web software companies adopt a "privacy by design" approach to their products.
Mozilla, maker of the Firefox Web browser, responded to the FTC's report by indicating that the company needs to examine the proposal in greater detail. Mozilla vice president and general counsel Harvey Anderson was upbeat on his blog, commenting that the FTC "has proposed a set of principles that align well with the Mozilla manifesto and our approach to software development including: privacy by design, transparency, user choice and no surprises." Google noted in a statement to The New York Times that the company agrees with the FTC's view that privacy policies should be easier to understand and that corporate data-gathering practices should be more transparent.
Other companies that sell services via the Internet have been less cautious in their criticism of efforts to block online tracking. Advertising has emerged as a key driver of online content, services and applications available to users at little or no cost, Time Warner Cable president of media sales Joan Gillman testified Thursday at a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee hearing to address potential do-not-track legislation. She defended targeted advertising, which relies on specific information about online users, as the most effective way for advertisers to reach potential consumers and encouraged the government to let the industry self-regulate (pdf).