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    New York Times: Opt-Out Provision Would Halt Some, but Not All, Web Tracking

    The New York Times reports on the new proposal for a “Do Not Track” online activity system by advertising and technology companies — an opt-out proposal that some say does not truly protect individual privacy:

    Last Thursday federal regulators, members of advertising trade groups and technology companies gathered in Washington to announce new initiatives to protect consumers’ privacy online. But, as it turns out, privacy is in the eye of the beholder. […]

    The advertising and technology industries, which have been under pressure to do more to ensure privacy, said they would support a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would be clearly and uniformly adopted by browser vendors and would allow consumers to opt out of having some companies, but not all, keep data on their online activities.

    While the agreement would limit certain types of data collection, consumers would hardly be invisible on the Web.

    “ ‘Do Not Track’ is a misnomer. It’s not an accurate depiction of what’s going on,” said Stuart P. Ingis, the head of the Digital Advertising Alliance, a trade group representing the advertising industry, which regards consumer behavior as crucial to its business. “This is stopping some data collection, but it’s not stopping all data collection.” […]

    The industry’s compromise on a “Do Not Track” mechanism is one result of continuing negotiations among members of the Federal Trade Commission, which first called for such a mechanism in its initial privacy report; the Commerce Department; the White House; the Digital Advertising Alliance; and consumer privacy advocates.

    Until now, methods for opting out of custom advertising varied depending on the privacy settings of a user’s browser or whether a user clicked on the blue triangle icons in the corners of some digital ads. Under the new system, browser vendors will build an option into their browser settings that, when selected, will send a signal to companies collecting data that the user does not want to be tracked. […]

    Privacy advocates complain that the mechanism does not go nearly far enough in part because it affects only certain marketers. Many publishers and search engines, like Google, Amazon or The New York Times, are considered “first-party sites,” which means that the consumer goes to these Web pages directly. First-party sites can still collect data on visitors and serve them ads based on what is collected. […]

    For advertisers, a lot will depend on how consumers respond. A recent study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press seemed to contain mixed signals on the issue: 56 percent of the respondents thought the government should not become more involved with regulating how Internet companies handle privacy issues. Yet 59 percent said collection of user data for targeted advertising was an unjustified use of a person’s private information.

    And there are still unresolved technical issues regarding Do Not Track, including what defines tracking and how that would apply to first-party and third-party Web sites.

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