Don't Believe the Phony Scare Tactics

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-03-17 Print this article Print


Now, understand that I have no indication that Amazon engages in such activity, but there are sites that do. Users of the Internet should have the ability to prevent this without having to go to extraordinary lengths to prevent such tracking. Right now the major browser makers are in the process of incorporating a means to block browser tracking, but in the case of Firefox, for example, the "Do Not Follow" function depends on the cooperation of the Website. While respected e-commerce sites will likely comply, there are plenty of sites out there that won't.  

The problem, which groups such as the CEI seem to miss, is that competition in the marketplace only works when all sides to the transaction are fully informed. In the case of much tracking takes place, that doesn't happen. Consumers simply have no good way to know whether a site is tracking them or not. 

Fortunately, there are methods that can reduce tracking, such as turning off cookies in your browser, but those also disable useful features on many sites and in fact there are many sites for which the use of such security measures makes the site unusable. So there's a powerful incentive for consumers to turn off such security measures and thus open themselves up to tracking. 

The current bill introduced in the House of Representatives a few days ago, called the "Do Not Track Me Online Act," by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), would require companies to honor opt-out requests and it would require disclosure of privacy and tracking policies, and require that companies do what their privacy policies promise. The bill exempts smaller businesses and has no impact on companies that don't collect personal information. 

The claims by advertising groups such as the Interactive Advertising Bureau that a Do Not Track bill would require a change in the basic architecture of the Internet are pure hogwash. The Internet is not architected around advertising one way or the other. Likewise the claims by the CEI that this is somehow related to movement to a national ID card or the TSA's body scanners are misguided scare tactics that are clearly aimed at lawmakers with a tenuous grasp on the technology. 

Regardless of the approach to keep tracking of Internet activity under control, and regardless of the approach to protecting personal information that's ultimately brought to bear on Internet providers that overstep their customers' interests, the need for protection is there.  

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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