Protecting Your Privacy

Today’s technology has made it easier for grandparents in Canton to connect with their grandchildren in Chillicothe. Items from a store in Orrville can be purchased in Sharonville and shipped to Circleville.

But improved technology also brings challenges along with opportunities.

The Internet and some popular communication devices have made it easier for companies to track consumers and criminals to pursue children.

Facebook, Google, and other popular websites collect computer users’ personal information. Applications on so-called smartphones – like the Blackberry and iPhone – can also track a caller’s location using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.

GPS is available to any private user, including marketing and research firms.

While marketing companies can use one’s location to create targeted advertisements, stalkers and abusers can use this information for more sinister reasons.

In fact, a 2009 Department of Justice report found that about one out of every nine domestic violence survivors was stalked or harassed using GPS technology, which is present in many smartphones. Recent reports from the Wall Street Journal to PC World have outlined how GPS is “a stalker’s best friend.”

Consumers, children, and survivors of stalking and domestic abuse have a right to privacy.

Leslie from Cincinnati wrote a brief, yet precise letter: “Please sponsor legislation to prevent companies from tracking me when I am online.”

Ohioans like Leslie should have the right to decide if they want to share their private information. And Ohioans should be able to keep their children safe from online predators.

Earlier this month, I met with representatives from the Ohio Domestic Violence Network in Cleveland to address a solution to this problem.

That’s why I am supporting legislation that would protect all users of the Internet and smartphones.

The Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011 would give consumers privacy safeguards and includes the added benefit of helping protect people who experience domestic abuse and stalking.

This bill would protect Internet and smartphone consumers from having their personal information or data shared with businesses, and also help domestic abuse and stalking survivors stay undetected by the criminals who pursue them.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the agency responsible for administering the “Do Not Call” Registry, would establish standards similar to the “Do Not Call” list to implement the Do-Not-Track database.

Internet websites and smartphone applications would be prohibited from collecting personal information from individuals who have opted-out by making their Do-Not-Track preference known.

Both the FTC and state attorneys general would enforce the Do-Not-Track law.

Simply put, this legislation would prevent Internet and smartphone users from having their location tracked without their knowledge or consent.

Eileen from Strongsville wrote, “I worry that my searches, purchases, emails and other online activity are being tracked, and that information about me is held by companies I don’t know anything about. I want to be able to control the way my information is collected and used online, and regain some privacy when I surf the web.”

In addition to concerned Ohioans like Leslie and Eileen, the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Digital Democracy, and other consumer protection groups support this bill.

Librarians in Akron, retirees in Zanesville, and students in Cincinnati should have the right to decide if they want to share private information –including the books they buy online, the financial options they research, and the neighborhoods they frequent.

Modern technology shouldn’t interfere with America’s age-old guarantee to privacy.

Let’s work together to protect children and survivors of domestic abuse and stalking. This commonsense legislation is an important step in the right direction.

For more information on my work for Ohio, please click here.

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Sen. Sherrod Brown
713 Hart Senate Office Bldg.

Washington, DC 20510

p (202) 224-2315

f (202) 228-6321