‘Do Not Track’ Pushes Buttons

Do Not Track, Online PrivacyThe absolute privacy advocates of ‘Do Not Track’ legislation are back for another attempt to pass their idea of privacy on the Internet. How do they think that the users are able to get so much free stuff on the Web? The current financial model of the Internet calls for the collection of information in order to defray the expenses of the Web.

Yet, here we are again in another fight over the privacy of individuals by a group of people that don’t seem to understand that information is fuel for the user experience. Without information on the consumers the user cannot realize the full potential of what is essentially a data collection universe.

Some years ago retail establishments instituted loyalty programs. In return for the collection of information on their purchases, the retailers offered special sales, coupons and other rewards. We recently received an email with targeted digital coupons for items that we usually purchased. Our chain also offers discounts on gasoline purchases based on how much we spend at their stores. Believe me, these discounts come in handy with gas over $3.00 per gallon.

In return for the collection of purchasing information, there is a trade-off. Information for tangible benefits. And the Internet works the same way. Companies like Google, Bing and Yahoo are collecting your information and selling it to marketers in order to defray the huge expenses of run data services like Google Search. Or would you rather pay a per search charge every time that you use it?

Now, there are opinions on both sides of this argument. Some think that loyalty programs are intrusive while others look at them as a fair trade-off for their information. Now, of course, some marketers will use this type of tracking to fill your email inbox and your mailbox with endless offers that are irrelevant to your core buying habits. But you can always say no and unsubscribe. After all, we still have free will.

Privacy advocates see an opportunity to crimp the reach of marketers on the Internet by passing a tough new ‘Do Not Track’ law in the Congress. Using the power of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce such a law would place the heavy hand of regulation on the freest form of expression that we have in the modern world.

Meanwhile, the two sides have come to an impasse over what ‘Do Not Track’ actually means. Quite simply, the proposed utility permits internet users to indicate to third-party data collectors that they do not wish to have their information tracked.

The problem with third-party data collectors is that you never really know who they are or what info of yours they have (or even how much) and so ‘Do Not Track’ would theoretically permit internet users to increase the amount of control they have when it comes to sharing their information with third-party companies by allowing internet users to tell these companies to discontinue the collection of data.

Microsoft set off a row last month when it announced that its upcoming Internet Explorer 10 will be released with the Do Not Track feature already on by default. Oddly, Microsoft’s justification for making Do Not Track the a default feature was that it gives people the right to decide if they want their information kept from third-party data collectors.

However, if consumer preference were truly the issue, you would imagine that Microsoft would have included Do Not Track with IE10 but not as a default feature, thus allowing users to decide whether or not to turn it on, i.e., choose for themselves. The implication Microsoft seems to be trying to make is that third-party data collectors should naturally be distrusted. They’ve rigged the field in favor of the privacy advocates by this choice.

The Digital Advertising Alliance, a group that represents online advertisers, took exception with Microsoft’s decision pointing out that self-regulation was working. In fact, most people who use the internet have no idea what ‘Do Not Track’ is or how it works.

But if you ask consumers if the want to continue with free stuff on the Internet, like Google Earth and other free programs, I can’t believe that they would say no. But no it will be if absolute privacy advocates have their way.

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