Would “Do Not Track” Kill The Internet Or Make It A More Consumer-Friendly Place?

Talks between the White House and the Internet industry over a “Do Not Track” tool for consumer use on websites have been going on for almost a year now, but it seems neither side can exactly agree on what should be involved. Would giving consumers the power to keep their data from being collected end up killing Internet business or simply increasing privacy for those surfing it?

The White House wants the “Do Not Track” tool on websites so consumers can control where their information is going. But businesses use much of that information to decide how to target consumers in advertising, and in exchange receive much of their revenue from such ads.

The stalemate in the 10 months of talks revolves around how tight the controls should be — and what exactly “Do Not Track” means. Privacy advocates see it as stopping data collection entirely, so a consumer scan surf the World Wide Web without anyone scooping up their info for economic gain. Those into making money, say Google or Facebook, see it as not targeting ads to a consumer based on their surfing history, but that data collection would continue for other purposes.

Even after all these months of talks, it seems a deal taking into account both sides isn’t in sight, notes Reuters. The next step to push the stalemate would be to test regulatory and congressional threats of legislation to enforce Internet privacy.

Businesses on the Internet say they need personal info to bring in ad revenue, and that if you get rid of such data, you’re choking the Internet.

“If you get rid of that, you kill the Internet. It’s just that simple,” Linda Woolley, executive vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, said of the dangers of ceasing data collection.

On the other hand, there’s that whole privacy thing.

“We want to reduce the profile, the data footprint of citizens who increasingly spend a lot of time online,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit active in policing privacy.

The trade-off for collecting data, say some, is that consumers then get free Web content and services — but is it free if you’re “paying” with your data, and have no choice in the matter?

Currently, certain web browsers allow consumers to say they don’t want to be tracked — but regulations as they stand now let websites and advertisers ignore those requests.

So what will it be — a universal “Do Not Track” system and the end of Internet business as we know it? Guess we’ll have to wait and see if the two sides can hammer something out.

‘Do Not Track’ Internet spat risks legislative crackdown [Reuters]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.