PhotoThe Federal Communications Commission has advised privacy seekers to look elsewhere in their quest for someone to enforce "Do Not Track" rules against Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other web giants.

Consumer Watchdog, a California advocacy group, had petitioned the agency to enforce the voluntary efforts by websites to abide by consumers' requests that they not be tracked across the Internet.

But the FCC said flatly that it lacks the authority to do so. In fact, said wireline competition bureau chief Matthew DelNero, the commission has been "unequivocal in declaring it has no intention to regulate edge providers," a catch-all term covering websites and apps.

This is in keeping with the FCC's longstanding policy of not regulating content except in the rare instances when Congress has authorized it to do so. For example, the agency has the authority to take action against broadcasters who allow profanity in their programs, although it seldom does so.

Not happy

Consumer Watchdog, a frequent critic of Google and other large web operators, isn't happy with the brush-off. 

“We believe the FCC has the authority to enforce Internet privacy protections far more broadly than they have opted to do and are obviously disappointed by this decision,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, in a prepared statement.

Noting that the FCC is formulating rules to cover broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast, Simpson said it makes no sense to keep a hands-off policy for content providers. 

“Consumers’ data will be protected in one place, but it will be a Wild West, anything goes atmosphere when it comes to giant Internet companies,” said Simpson. “Requiring that Do Not Track requests be honored is a simple way to give people necessary control of their information and is in no way an attempt to regulate the content of the Internet.”

Consumer Watchdog vowed to press state regulators, Congress and the courts to better protect Internet users’ privacy.


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