U.S. tweaks Internet privacy guidelines

A Google employee works on a laptop in front of a mural of the New York City skyline, at the New York City company office March 10, 2008. REUTERS/Erin Siegal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal regulators tweaked recommendations for how websites should collect, save and share information about users, extending them to Internet service providers and mobile users.

The Federal Trade Commission issued new guidance on Thursday for the self-regulated industry that urges websites to tell consumers that data is being collected during their searches and to allow them to opt out.

This guidance recommends that mobile companies and Internet service providers also inform customers about data collection and allow users to decline.

“You may have a contract with your ISP and everywhere you go, they can be collecting information on you,” said Jessica Rich, the FTC’s assistant director in the division of privacy and identity protection.

There are few U.S. laws about the collection and use of data from the Internet, with exceptions of instances where firms fail to live up to advertised promises to protect privacy, or fail to deliver an expected level of data protection.

One of the four commissioners who approved the report, Jon Leibowitz, warned that the industry’s failure to safeguard the public’s privacy could lead to a tougher federal position.

“Industry needs to do a better job of meaningful, rigorous self-regulation or it will certainly invite legislation by Congress and a more regulatory approach by our commission,” he wrote.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Andre Grenon