Parents, teens want more privacy online: poll

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A large percentage of U.S. parents would support a law requiring companies to be barred from collecting information about Internet users unless they explicitly agree, according to a new poll out on Friday.

A man gestures before a computer screen in a file photo. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Concern over privacy, which 85 percent of parents said they were more concerned about now than five years ago, has pushed lawmakers and federal agencies to advocate tighter rules.

A poll commissioned by Common Sense Media and done by Zogby International found support for government action.

The poll found that 92 percent of parents were concerned that teenagers and children were too open about personal matters online and that 75 percent believed that social networking sites failed to protect children’s privacy.

Eighty-eight percent of parents and 85 percent of teenagers wanted online companies to ask their permission before sharing information with advertisers, and 88 percent of parents would support a law making “opt in” a legal requirement, according to the poll.

Since much of the information on the Web is free because it is a vehicle for advertising, companies have worried that “do not track” lists could shake the Web’s financial foundations.

But the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, which is pushing a plan to extend broadband, argued that privacy concerns could hurt Internet commerce.

“This distrust has implications for industry,” FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said.

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz has urged the industry to do a better job of self-regulation or face tougher federal oversight.

“If there were a ‘do not track’ adopted, I’m not sure that the rate of people who would not want to be tracked would be terribly high,” he said.

Earlier this month, in an attempt to self-regulate, a coalition of major online advertising groups announced a program to allow Internet users to opt out of being tracked by marketers.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, criticized online marketers on Friday.

Markey, who was the author of legislation banning companies from collecting personal information about children aged 12 and under without parental consent, said he was also concerned about privacy related to health concerns.

“As more consumers seek health information online, individuals should not be targeted with advertisements based on information about medical conditions they may seek online unless they first choose to receive them,” he said in a statement.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Gary Hill