California's Do Not Track law takes a step forward

California's Do Not Track law would be the first of its kind in the U.S. if passed

California is a step closer to getting the first Do Not Track legislation in the U.S., aimed at protecting Internet users from invasive advertising.

The proposed Senate bill, SB-761, passed a Senate Judiciary Committee vote late Tuesday, but it still has a long way to go before having a chance of being signed into law. It now moves on to the Appropriations Committee, and must also pass the Senate and State Assembly before landing on Governor Jerry Brown's desk.

Still, it's the first time such a bill has made it out of committee, and that's a big deal, according to John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project. "This is the first time that a 'do not track' bill has actually had a hearing and been debated and then voted forward in the legislative process," he said.

The bill would give California consumers a simple way of opting out of data collection systems that keep track of their online activities. "It puts up a no trespassing sign on our device," Simpson said.

Opponents of the bill, including Google, the Direct Marketing Association, and the wireless industry group CTIA, say it puts an unnecessary burden on online commerce.

Online marketers love this type of data because it helps them fashion highly effective targeted advertising. But many consumers don't want to hand marketers every detail of what they do on the Web.

Under the proposed law, users would have a way -- possibly a through a browser setting -- of telling Web sites not to track them. If a company disregarded this and collected data without permission, it could face stiff fines.

Even though several browsers offer a way ask Web sites to stop behavioral tracking, there is nothing that forces the Web sites to comply.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation supports the concept of Do Not Track legislation, but Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien says the proposed California legislation is unnecessarily complicated and may not actually do what it intends. "We're not incredibly fond of the language in the current bill, which is why we think it needs amendments," he said.

Still, Tien thinks that an amended Do Not Track law has a better chance of getting passed in California than at the federal level. After all, California led the nation with its Do Not Call legislation, which put a muzzle on annoying telemarketers. Two years later, the federal government followed California's lead and set up its Do Not Call registry.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

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