Bloomberg News

FTC Should Probe Online Tracking Technology, Lawmakers Say

September 27, 2011

(Updates with FTC comment in sixth paragraph.)

Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Trade Commission should investigate the use of so-called “supercookies” to track consumers online, two U.S. lawmakers wrote in a letter to the agency.

Cookies are files installed on a computer that collect personal data on users and can be used to track the websites people visit. “Supercookies” differ from previous versions of the technology because they are often hidden on consumers’ web browsers and cannot be deleted, Representatives Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, wrote in a Sept. 26 letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

The agency should investigate such technology under its mandate to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive trade practices, the lawmakers wrote.

“I think supercookies should be outlawed because their existence eats away at consumer choice and privacy,” Barton said in a news release.

“Companies should not be behaving like supercookie monsters, gobbling up personal, sensitive information without users’ knowledge,” Markey said.

No matter what the technology, “tracking should be consistent with the principles of transparency and choice,” Maneesha Mithal, assistant director of the FTC’s privacy and identity protection division, said in an e-mail. Mithal did not specifically address “supercookies” or the lawmakers’ concerns about them.

Markey and Barton, who are co-chairs of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, introduced a bill on May 13 that requires parental consent to collect online information on children and prohibits use of such information to target marketing at children and teens.

--Editors: Michael Shepard, Allan Holmes

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Engleman in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Allan Holmes at

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