Several consumer groups have joined together to request that the FTC implement a “Do Not Track” list for online use, which would allow Internet users to request that they be told in advance any time their online patterns are being tracked for advertising purposes. They submitted a formal request today, before the FTC’s 2-day workshop begins tomorrow where it will “study the increasing use of tracking technology to target online ads.”
Computer users should be notified when their Web surfing is tracked by online advertisers and Web publishers, argue the Consumer Federation of America, the World Privacy Forum and the Center for Democracy and Technology, among other groups in a coalition promoting the idea.
Rather than burying privacy policies in fine print, companies should also disclose them more fully and provide easier ways to opt out, the groups said.
Advertising groups have countered that tracking is beneficial to the consumer because it helps advertisers target appropriate messages to web users—but that’s a little like saying putting bells on deer is beneficial to the deer because it makes them easier to shoot.
On the other hand, argue the privacy advocates, such vast collections of personal data make for attractive targets to hackers and identity thieves, not to mention the government, and could lead to unsavory practices like price discrimination—”for example, lower-income Web surfers might receive higher interest-rate mortgage or other loan offers than what higher-income consumers receive.”
We think there’s a fundamental difference between intrusive practices—like telemarketing and physical junk mail—and invisible practices like collecting usage data in the background. However, what’s more important is that the usage data has a clear value, and too often we give it away largely for free to businesses like DoubleClick. We’d like to see more stringent privacy policies that would give consumers the ability to derive higher value from their personal data.