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After federal regulators proposed a "Do Not Track" mechanism to give control over what consumer data companies can collect and share, a lot of confusion remains about what the proposal really means.

In a 122-page preliminary report issued Dec. 1, the Federal Trade Commission suggested that users need a way to universally opt-out of having companies track their Web activity. The report is "fairly consistent" with previous FTC statements and "just solidifies" its position, said Susan L. Lyon, a privacy and security lawyer at Seattle-based Perkins Coie, a firm specializing in privacy, online safety and Internet law. 

Online behavioral advertising lets companies generate detailed profiles on consumers. Marketers are increasingly analyzing the Websites that consumers visit, the links they click, Internet search history, online and offline purchases, geographic location data, and other personal information disclosed on social networking sites.

The Do Not Track proposal endorsed by the FTC simplifies the process of opting out. The idea is that users would be able to choose to have their browser tell any Website not to track them for advertising purposes, and that setting wouldn’t be wiped out if a user clears browser cookies, as currently happens with opt-out cookies.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said the marketing industry has not done nearly enough to make sure people understand what personal information is being collected, or to provide them with adequate control over the associated data collection. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) Reiny Reitman wrote on the group’s blog that it is "extremely impractical" for consumers to defend against the "astonishing array" of tracking technologies that are both "sophisticated" and in "widespread use."

For more, read the eWeek article: Web Marketers Wary of FTC’s ‘Do Not Track’ Initiative.