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Finding Middle Ground In The Do-Not-Track Debate

Publication Date: 
May 15, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle
James Temple

Fellow Ryan Calo spoke with James Temple of the San Francisco Chronicle on why a federal do-not-track law might be more preferable over a state version.

California's proposed do-not-track law would halt Internet innovation, break the economy and invite hackers to run wild, at least according to an assortment of tech companies and trade groups. It would also encourage terrorism, accelerate global warming and require Californians to drown puppies.

OK, we made that last part up.

But those first dire warnings were among the ones listed in a recent, sensationalized letter to state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, author of California's do-not-track bill. The predictable assortment of business groups, like the California Chamber of Commerce and Tech America, attached their name to the missive, along with companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo.


The California proposal does grant the attorney general some leeway to create exemptions, but it's less defined. A federal law is also preferable to many because it creates a single set of standards. Asking regulators to set up overarching principles, rather than point-by-point legal mandates, makes more sense too, said Ryan Calo, director of Stanford's Consumer Privacy Project.

"We should be setting general goals and making sure that companies meet them," he said. "But we shouldn't be telling them exactly how to do so, because the technology moves too fast."


Calo stressed that this approach is not the same as simply allowing the self-regulation that the industry is calling for, because it will involve oversight. He and others say that the industry has demonstrated vividly that self-regulation hasn't worked.