Late last week the Federal Trade Commission testified in Congress that it wants to enable consumers to opt out of having their activities on the internet tracked — a common practice that enables businesses to serve targeted advertisements.  According to the press release:

The [FTC] … supports giving consumers a “Do Not Track” option because the practice is largely invisible to consumers, and they should have a simple, easy way to control it. The FTC proposes that Do Not Track would be a persistent setting on consumers’ Web browsers.

The testimony states that such a mechanism could be accomplished through legislation or potentially through robust, enforceable self-regulation.

via FTC Testifies on Do Not Track Legislation.

Almost as if on cue, the Wall Street Journal reports on a growing industry focused on tackling the problem:

Seeking to head off escalating scrutiny over Internet privacy, a group of online tracking rivals is building a service that lets consumers see what information those companies know about them. … Called the Open Data Partnership, it will allow consumers to edit the interests, demographics and other profile information collected about them. It also will allow people to choose to not be tracked at all.

via Some Internet-Use Tracking Firms to Reveal What They Know – WSJ.com.

With the FTC focused on the issue, one would guess that the businesses participating in the Open Data Partnership are positioned in a sweet spot. Either way, the developments may well impact many businesses that now rely on such tracking data.

Update 12/7/2010 ….

Timing is everything.  From Techflash:

Microsoft today announced plans to roll out new functionality in connection with its Internet Explorer 9 browser which allows users to control how much personal information that they share with Web sites. The service — dubbed Tracking Protection — allows Internet users to decide which third party sites are permitted to track browsing activities online and block those which are deemed undesirable. Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Internet Explorer, says the technology is the equivalent of the “Do Not Call” list for the telephone.

via Microsoft’s ‘Tracking Protection’ brings new privacy settings to IE9.

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