Online Privacy: Concerns About Employer or Insurance Company Detection of Disability-Related Browser Add-ons

This comment raises concerns about an individual’s digital fingerprint as revealed by browser add-ons. Add-ons are pieces of software that enhance the capabilities of a larger software application, such as a web browser. When an individual visits a website, most websites ask the computer for the browser’s installed add-ons, and other information about a user’s computer (such as screen size), to ensure that the content and information it sends to a computer is properly formatted. This information may be thought of as an individual’s “digital fingerprint.”

Add-ons have many useful benefits. However, a digital fingerprint also creates the potential for employers, insurance companies, and others to discriminate based on add-on information. The TLPC’s comment to the FTC highlights concerns that a party (for example, an employer) could see that a user (for example, a job applicant) has an add-on installed that is specific to his disability. This information could be potentially misused. Consider a person with a vision impairment, who uses a screen reader add-on, in applying for a job on the potential employer’s website. The potential employer sees the installed add-on and decides not to hire the applicant because the employer does not want to pay for accessibility programs for the applicant. The TLPC argues that regulatory agencies should be sensitive to such abuse and consider whether additional safeguards are warranted.

Comment on FTC’s Proposed Privacy Framework