Sept. 27, 2011: Barton, Markey Urge FTC To Investigate Use Of

Lawmakers concerned that information-gathering practice undermines consumer privacy, control

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Co-Chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, sent a letter today to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agency to investigate so-called “supercookies”, files that can be installed on computers without a user's knowledge. Supercookies allow websites to collect detailed personal data about users, including websites previously visited. Even when consumers choose to delete regular cookies from their computers, supercookies persist.  According to a report last month in The Wall Street Journal (“Latest in Web Tracking: Stealthy ‘Supercookies’, August 18, 2011), it was discovered that companies have been installing supercookies on users’ computers without their knowledge. Even technical experts at the websites in the report stated they had no knowledge that the secret files were being installed.

In the letter, Reps. Barton and Markey write to the FTC: “We are interested in any actions the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken or plans to take to investigate the usage and impact of supercookies on the Internet and consumers. We believe that an investigation of the usage of supercookies would fall within the FTC’s mandate as stipulated in Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act with respect to protecting Americans from ‘unfair and deceptive acts or practices.’”

“I think supercookies should be outlawed because their existence eats away at consumer choice and privacy,” said Rep. Barton in separate comments. “How can you protect yourself from unwanted online tracking or your browsing history when you don’t even know your information is at risk?

“The constant abuse of online activity must stop,” continued Barton. “I am confident the FTC will fulfill their goal to protect Americans from ‘unfair and deceptive acts or practices’ by reviewing our request to take a closer look at supercookies.”

“I am very disturbed by news that supercookies are being used to collect vast amounts of information about consumers’ online activities without their knowledge,” said Rep. Markey. “Companies should not be behaving like supercookie monsters, gobbling up personal, sensitive information without users’ knowledge. Consumers, not corporations should have the choice about if, how or when their personal information is used. I will continue to closely follow this issue and look forward to the FTC's response.”

A copy of the letter to the FTC can be found HERE .