To track or not to track

If you haven’t heard, the internet privacy wars are gearing up to what could be Armageddon for advertisers and commercial data collectors. With Microsoft automatically setting the “Do Not Track” option “On” in its latest version of Internet Explorer 10 as many as 43 percent of internet browsers may stop reporting customer information to merchandisers and other snoopers.  As discussed recently in the New York Times, “The advent of “Do Not Track” threatens the barter system wherein consumers allow sites and third-party ad networks to collect information about their online activities in exchange for open access to maps, e-mail, games, music, social networks and whatnot. Marketers have been fighting to preserve this arrangement, saying that collecting consumer data powers effective advertising tailored to a user’s tastes. In turn, according to this argument, those tailored ads enable smaller sites to thrive and provide rich content.”

But don’t think Wall Street is going to take this lying down. In her article “Do Not Track: Advertisers say Don’t Tread on US,” Natasha Singer writes that a campaign began a few weeks ago to turn those trackers back on––for everyone. “First came a stern letter from nine members of the House of Representatives to the Federal Trade Commission, questioning its involvement with an international group called the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, which is trying to work out global standards for the don’t-track-me features. The legislators said they were concerned that these options for consumers might restrict “the flow of data at the heart of the Internet’s success.” Then the advertisers themselves chimed in. “If we do away with this relevant advertising, we are going to make the Internet less diverse, less economically successful, and frankly, less interesting,” says Mike Zaneis, the general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an industry group.

Naturally, privacy advocates have a different position on this. Just consider that on even a single website, you might have dozens of third-parties compiling information on YOU: storing information about what gets read, searched for, clicked on or bought. Most anyone who has this explained to them at least think that they should be able to choose between the costs and benefits of data mining mining’s –– have the ability to opt out. As of this writing, the Obama administration has yet to take a formal position on the matter. Or will it be the Romney administration soon?

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