APFrom the AP via Yahoo News : If you don’t like what your favorite Internet search engine or e-commerce site does with information it collects about you, your options are limited to living with it or logging off. Major search engines, for instance, all keep records of your searches for weeks, months or even years, often tied to your computer’s Internet address or more. Retailers, meanwhile, generally presume the right to send marketing e-mails. Although online companies have become better at disclosing data practices, privacy advocates say the services’ stated policies generally don’t give consumers real choice.

“None of them have gotten to the point of giving a lot of controls in users’ hands,” said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the technology watchdog group Center for Democracy and Technology. Privacy policies “are about notice … not about control.”

Recent developments — from companies losing laptops containing sensitive data to Time Warner Inc.’s AOL releasing customers’ search terms — have again turned the spotlight on Internet privacy.

But the push for stronger federal protections is countered by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ desire to require Internet providers to preserve customer records to help prosecutors fight child pornography. Officials have released few details, though they say any proposal would keep the data in company hands until the government seeks a subpoena or other lawful process.

Federal law already limits how personal financial and health care data may be used, but U.S. privacy laws are generally considered weak compared with Europe and Canada.

Industry groups have stepped in with guidelines that go beyond legal requirements.

One group, Truste, requires member companies such as AOL and Yahoo Inc. to give consumers a way to decline sharing personally identifiable information with outside parties. Companies also must disclose any use of tracking technology and specify personal information collected and how it is used.

“The fact that we don’t license every person on the Internet gives consumers (the ability) to shop around,” said John Tomaszewski, Truste’s vice president for legal, policy and compliance. “We’ve got folks out there engaging in a higher standard than what is normally required.”

 

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