Do Not Track Me

The Federal Trade Commission’s proposed Do Not Track system is justified in that it would block intrusive marketing and ad campaigns and protect consumer privacy. Pro or con?

Pro: Get Your Nose out of My Data

Just as most consumers can no longer repair their own automobiles, very few of us really understand what’s happening "under the hood" every time we click to make a purchase, send a message, or play a video on the Internet

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But the companies that provide behavioral tracking services do, and they use that knowledge to collect personal and private data and build detailed profiles of our online habits and preferences. While Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has pushed the marketing and advertising industries toward self-regulation, its recent call for a Do Not Track system serves as evidence enough that we need enforced regulation to protect our privacy.

The FTC’s latest report on consumer privacy takes a great leap in putting consumers back in control of their personal privacy. If enacted, the recommendations will: 1) make privacy protection a more important part of business process; 2) require greater transparency about information the data companies are collecting and exactly what they’re doing with it; and 3) enable consumers to control their own privacy via a Do Not Track system.

Adopting the FTC privacy recommendations, including the Do Not Track system, will help protect online privacy as the Internet evolves and becomes an even more integral part of our personal and business lives.

Con: Tracking Has a Plus Side

Industry can protect consumers’ privacy without legislation or further governmental oversight and expense.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission set out clear goals for self-regulation in the area of online behavioral advertising. America’s businesses have responded. With the inception of the www.AboutAds.info program, the Advertising Icon Option will be served on some 5 billion ads. With a click or two, consumers can opt out of some or all interest-based ads. Paid for entirely by the business community, the program places no burden on taxpayers—a significant difference from any government-run program.

In addition to leaving money in taxpayers’ hands, self-regulation allows consumers to continue enjoying the benefits of the free economy. In the past 15 years, the information economy has revolutionized the world. Without the ongoing support of an ever-improving advertising infrastructure, consumers would no longer receive relevant and useful offers or enjoy free content and services across the Internet.

At this point, it is still unclear exactly what the FTC means by "Do Not Track." On the other hand, having spent the better part of the past year developing a system to provide real and meaningful choice to consumers about whether they receive personalized ads on the Internet, I can say with certainty that business is safeguarding consumers’ privacy while protecting the economic interests of all Americans.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or Bloomberg LP.

Reader Comments

Butch Jones

I still don't get why anyone is all up-in-arms about having a few cookies on their browser. Who cares if some site captured your random IP address (which isn't mapped in any real or easy way to most people) on whatever site you visit?

Unless you are visiting talaban.com or pedophile.com, seriously, you shouldn't even care.

Plus, those websites have huge logfiles and your little IP is like a needle in a haystack.

Doug Wolfgram - IntelliProtect

If it were only IP address you'd be right Bruce. But with the cookies they can track what you click on, what you purchase, every site you visit, and then even tie it back to personal data they glean from Facebook or other social networking sites. What is important is that you should have control. Behavioral tracking can be very useful! But you the consumer should have the ability to decide who tracks you. Currently, in a self-regulated industry, most companies don't even provide a way for you to opt out!

Keith Huntoon

The data being captured is easily tied back to an invididual--I know because I am in the database marketing industry and the technology's use is well documented.

This data can be used in ways most of us don't imagine. For example, what if you're researching sites specific to health problems and this data is accessed and used by insurance companies, potential employers, mortgage lenders, credit card companies, etc.? Some people may not mind sharing 100% of their life, but others, as Doug stated, want choice.

The bottom line is it's not ethical to track individuals (especially without consent) without providing a clear, simple opt out mechanism. Logically, I'm not sure how anyone can disagree.

Ben Isaacson

If I'm reading Larry's comments correctly, he's saying that there will be 5 billion options for users to opt out, pointing them to a centralized place where they cannot only opt out of one cookie, but most advertising cookies set on their computer. Sounds like a Do-Not-Track registry to me. So what's the difference from what the FTC is envisioning?

js

To me, it comes down to a basic right of privacy. I do not care, nor have I chosen, to share any of my personal information. This is an intrusion, plain and simple. It is none of their business (even if it is their business).

Molly

I can see both sides to this argument. However, I feel that the information collected through tracking helps to improve customer shopping experience. I think that customers should have the option to opt out, but it is something that is not automatic and requires the customer to apply settings that would not allow tracking of information.

Rob Lewis

Molly, please get out of the mindset that the Internet is all about shopping. Some of us don't want our "customer shopping experience" improved. Some of us object to the commercialization of absolutely every sensory input we receive throughout every day.

It stuns me that this is even being debated. But I will cling to the last shreds of my privacy, and will not rely on "self-policing" (yeah, right) by commercial enterprises with vast technical resources to "safeguard" them.

jim

One must be careful not to assume that institutions that track you have your best interests in mind.

If in doubt, spend some time looking at the predatory practices of Bank of America.

The country's largest bank has screwed cardholders in ways that make Blackbeard look like an honest broker.

And you would trust a) banks, b) insurance companies, c) retailers....
because?

Tracking is a bad idea, period.

Fred

Typical US positioning. In the EU they have opt-in, not opt-out. I understand capitalism and agree that we are the best country in the world, but we need to step back and give people a little control over their personal info. Big business calls the shots in our system and they will likely win but I would love this option, and it shouldn't be difficult to obtain or get to.

These people track your information to make money off of you. People need to wake up and educate themselves if they think this is 'harmless' and just a 'little bit of data' when you weave the pieces of the puzzle together it would amaze you how complete the picture becomes.

It just boggles my mind why people give this stuff up randomly when, if they were put into a one on one situation and questioned they would never offer this much information or answer these questions.

People will laugh when I say this is Orwellian, but it is more accurate than it is inaccurate.

Mark

Any site has expenses for staff, content, servers, health insurance, etc. These costs are covered by advertising or subscription fees.

If you are not paying a subscription fee, then assume you are being tracked to the maximum allowed by law.

It is up to the individual to decide how they want to pay for their content. but forcing sites to allow you to consume content for free while significantly limiting ad revenue is like enforcing price controls or rent subsidy.

Gille Ann

I know surveys have been done questioning consumers about their privacy preferences, but have any been conducted asking consumers how much they'd be willing to pay for formerly "free" content?

Vpk

I think that a law that defines what to track and what not to is needed. Clarity helps--even the self-regulators. Of course, as so with everything else, you can expect the law to evolve as our definition of privacy changes.

Fed Up Texan

I get mad just having to type in my email address. There is no person alive in the world that needs to know a damn thing about me, my net habits, food preferances, choice of cars, airline, locations...in short, anything at all about my activities and thoughts.

Carl

I don't trust that this regulation would be done in a way that's helpful. Ever hear of a "trojan horse" virus? It's basically a bad program that gets put on your computer because you think you're installing another program that you want.

While you think this regulation will protect you from evil big business, they have plenty of resources to find ways around this.

What regulations like this effectively do is raise the cost and risk for small websites and businesses. It leaves them vulnerable, and anyone attempting to kill competition will sic the FTC on them at every opportunity.

Let me also ask you this. If you don't know enough about how data tracking works to protect yourself from it (which is very easy to do) then how can you possibly be able to tell if this proposed regulation is helpful or harmful?

The internet has revolutionized our lives. Let's not ruin it, please.

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