Privacy, Social Media — December 3, 2012 at 2:18 am

Fight Brewing Over Web Browser Tracking

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Dude, stop tracking me.

A fight is brewing over whether companies should be allowed to collect data and track Internet users for marketing purposes.

Marketers, advertisers and data brokers are using sophisticated technology to compile information about Internet users online habits.  Users, meanwhile, don’t like the idea and object on privacy grounds. They would like the ability to add a feature to all Web browsers that would block or turn off tracking.

The two sides are attempting to establish a global standard for “Do Not Track,” a computer browser setting. But reaching an agreement on this issue could take months or even years given the progress of the negotiations.

The latest development is the hiring of Ohio State University Law professor Peter Swire who was named as a mediator by the World Wide Web Consortium. The group favors allowing users to keep certain information private. Private industry, however, is not so sure that W3C is the place to debate this issue and iron out privacy problems, reports Natasha Singer of the New York Times.

Businesses are playing down the privacy risks. And for good reason. They don’t want to see restrictions on data collection. Marketers have been dreaming having these kinds of tools for decades.  In the past, targeting ads always involved some degree of guesswork. But in the digital world, data can be harvested with a much greater accuracy.  This allows advertisers to tailor ads to a very specific audience.

There is a lot of money to be made. Hence, the fight. Where are consumers?

Well, they don’t like tracking. But they seem to forget that business is on the Web for one reason – to make money. All this free content has to be paid for in some way. Google offers great, free products because it wants to collect your data which it can then turn around and sell to advertisers. The same is true for  Facebook and hundreds of other Web sites.

The situation has gotten out of hand. Advertising Age reports that a coalition of advocacy groups filed complaints to the Federal Trade Commission claiming that a number of marketers’ websites are violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  The coalition — which includes Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America, Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse — is asking the FTC to update its kids privacy rules to protect kids against data collection and behavioral targeting, including the collections of emails and photos, and the use of cookies, Advertising Age said.

For years, people have been naively giving up a piece of their privacy. Now, it seems like we are trying to put the genie back in the bottle. I don’t think it can be done. We are living in an age when we all will have less privacy.

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