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    Two opinion columns on Do Not Track consumer-protection proposal

    At US News and World Report, there is a point-counterpoint discussion concerning the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Track proposal (which has long been urged by privacy and consumer advocates). At U.S. News, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz believes: ‘Do Not Track’ Rules Would Help Web Thrive.

    As Americans trade mall lines for shopping online, our browsing is increasingly tracked—not by a hypothetical man with a walkie-talkie, but by a host of invisible data catchers that report your online clicks to marketing firms that, in turn, sell an astonishingly complete profile of your cyber behavior. The buyers are usually companies that target Internet advertising to your particular interests. Once you enter cyberspace, your private information—often without your consent or even knowledge—becomes a commodity out of your control.

    At the Federal Trade Commission, we want you to get that control back. We have proposed a “Do Not Track” mechanism that will allow you to easily specify what information you want to share about your browsing behavior and have those preferences travel with you to every website you visit. Technologies to create such a system exist; already, Google and Mozilla are considering ways to incorporate Do Not Track mechanisms in their browsers, and Microsoft has announced that its Internet Explorer 9 Web browser, due to be released soon, will have a Do Not Track feature. […]

    Do Not Track does not stop advertisers from collecting information on consumers. It does require them to convince us not to opt out of tracking by explaining how tracking benefits us and assuring us they will treat our personal data with care. I am sure that the companies marketing on the Internet today are up to that task.

    On the other side at US News, Michael Zaneis, senior vice president and general counsel of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, believes: ‘Do Not Track’ Rules Would Put a Stop to the Internet As We Know It.

    The recent and ill-informed calls for a national “Do Not Track” list, a theoretical mechanism to stop online data collection, might resonate with the public because of the apparent resemblance to the National Do Not Call Registry, but the two are similar in name only. You cannot simply turn off the data exchanges between parties that allow you to, for example, navigate from one website to another. Stop that sharing and you put a stop to the Internet as we know it. […]

    Here’s what you need to know: Advertisers and publishers are not in the business of gathering and selling information on individuals. What they are doing is what advertisers have done for more than a hundred years—creating groups of users and making educated guesses, now based on browser actions, on what might potentially be the interests of those groups. Men who like sports, for example, may be a perfect target for a sports drink, but not for lipstick. How that relevant advertising is delivered is precisely how the rest of the relevant content on the Internet is delivered.

    So if the creation of a Do Not Track list is not so simple, perhaps the advocates’ true motivation is to attack the economic engine that fuels the Internet—advertising. The stakes are high for those that would do away with relevant online advertising. Our industry is responsible for $300 billion of economic activity in the United States and directly employs more than 1.2 million Americans. But make no mistake about it, the interactive ad industry strongly supports consumer privacy. We’ve had a self-regulatory program,, in place for more than a decade, and we are currently updating that program to ensure it keeps pace with new technologies and evolving consumer expectations.

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