The Christian Science Monitor is wading into the debate over surveillance of consumers’ Internet browsing habits. In an opinion column, the Monitor says, “If the [advertising] industry refuses to broadly adopt clear, consistent, and reasonable standards of its own, Congress and federal regulators may have to step in.”
One area undergoing massive change is personal privacy. Fluid exchanges of information mean that more knowledge about people’s lives can be shared than they realize or desire. Facebook and Google are two Web giants that have recently faced criticism for playing fast and loose with information about their users. […]
The development of computerized data banks – such as those storing credit-card information, medical records, or store “loyalty card” buying habits – continues to erode personal privacy.
Now several US lawmakers and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are raising concerns about the need to better regulate the way that websites, and the advertisers on them, place tracking data on the computers of visitors. Called “cookies,” “beacons,” “pixels,” or just “Web bugs,” these programs operate behind the scenes to record not only which pages are visited on that site but continue to track and report back on the user’s subsequent visits to other sites. […]
Marketers argue that the data comes without any names attached, though there are often enough clues to determine an individual’s hometown, general age, and shopping habits. Users benefit, marketers say, by seeing ads that better match their interests. (If you’re reading about baby clothes, you may be expecting a child and could be served ads about diapers, for example.) […]
Online advertisers are rightly concerned that too strict a policy could severely damage online commerce. Companies spent $23 billion to advertise online last year – in no little part attracted by the ability to target ads to users.
A “do not track” policy wouldn’t prevent visitors from seeing ads altogether, it would only prevent advertisers from making educated guesses about which goods or services the site visitor might be most interested in.
The FTC plans to make recommendations on tracking software this fall. And members of both the House and Senate have legislation either filed or promised.