At Slate, Jack Shafer has an opinion column about online privacy. He argues that people should not depend on the government to protect them from marketers or others tracking and collecting details about their Web browsing. If people want privacy, he argues, they will have to pay for it:
There is no way to get around the fact that the current batch of top Web browsers were designed as advertising delivery systems first and editorial delivery systems second. The companies behind three of the four top browsers, Microsoft (Internet Explorer), Google (Chrome), and Apple (Safari), are all deeply invested in the advertising business. The company that makes the Firefox browser has been the benefactor of Google millions, which come primarily from advertising. The folks who make the Opera browser have likewise cashed Google’s checks. None of the software companies set out to make porous, easily breached browsers. But it hasn’t been in their interests to make impregnable ones. […]
I don’t mean to imply a software-advertising conspiracy. Since the early days of the Web, the top players have been aboveboard about the ultimate costs of free browsers and free content: advertisements. And hand-in-hand with those advertisements have been the privacy-complicating cookies that track where you are, time how long you stay, note what you do, and then follow you where you go on the Web. […]
Expert users already know how to minimize unwanted Web intrusions. They use their existing browser settings to block cookies or use a third-party program to manage them. They kill hard-to-kill Flash-cookies. They install Web add-ons that kill ads (some of which monitor surfing history) and programs like Noscript that block intrusive programs, some of them potentially dangerous to your computer’s health and your privacy. I am one such expert user, and my main browser is Firefox. But all that blocking and tackling can be exhausting. Just give a gander at this primer on Web browser security published by the Department of Homeland Security. It’s 5,775 words long!
But even after you take all the recommended cookie-crushing precautions and turn on the “private browsing” features of your browser, you can still be tracked, as this recent CNET piece reports. Modern browsers send Web sites a slew of seemingly innocuous information (browser version, OS, screen size, fonts installed, etc.) that can identify you.
Instead of letting the government decide what my browser does or doesn’t do, or trusting my Web access to Google and Microsoft’s conflicted executives, I’d prefer that a team of software engineers—who aren’t knee-deep in the advertising business—build a browser from the ground up that guarantees whatever privacy level I desire. I’d pay the going rate for such a piece of software, just as I’d pay for a security fence for my property or an anti-theft device for my car. Hell, I’d subscribe to such a super-browser if it promised regular updates to protect me from intrusions and infections.