Internet "Do not track" efforts could dash health data collection

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The White House wants a national “Do not track” policy – a digital version of the “Do not call” registry – and that's making marketing and advertising policy hands nervous.

In Senate testimony yesterday, a Commerce Department official said the administration wants a "privacy bill of rights" for Internet users.

Pharmas, in particular, need to pay attention, said Coalition for Healthcare Communication executive director John Kamp, who worries that medical search and other online data could be subject to particularly stringent restrictions.

The Center for Digital Democracy, US PIRG and other groups have called for “clear consumer protection safeguards” for online health information. In a recent submission (.pdf) to the Federal Trade Commission, they wrote: “The focus on consumer protection and health/pharma marketing has traditionally been to ensure adequate risk information on drug side effects and contraindications for use. But the emergence of powerful new digital marketing techniques designed to influence consumer behavior around health conditions and medications requires a new approach to informing and protecting the public.”

Kamp's fear is that instead of an opt-out option, medical and health-related data could be subjected to an opt-in rule requiring viewers to essentially volunteer their data before marketers could collect it.

The newest editions of the Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers will allow surfers to shun tracking, though these programs allow users different degrees of opacity. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has proposed a self-regulatory program making use of an “Advertising option icon” to alert surfers to behavioral advertising. The FTC has weighed requiring a “Do not track” browser button, and legislation has been introduced in Congress that would do just that.
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