Internet Tracking – pros and cons?

Seems Web tracking is the buzz topic at the moment, particularly the third party tracking which is primarily, although not entirely, connected to advertising. Make no mistake about it, the ‘do not track me’ type features introduced into the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari are pure window dressing. Compliance is strictly on a voluntary basis and most ad networks will continue to track your activities despite having the no tracking setting enabled.

Is third party Web tracking an invasion of privacy? Of course it is; any situation where permission is neither sought nor granted has to be viewed that way. However, the issue of harm versus benefit is an entirely different matter and definitely open to debate.

Because the internet is so young, it’s unclear yet the extent of the harm that can befall somebody through a privacy invasion. Recently, internet entrepreneur Michael Fertik answered questions on the importance of protecting oneself from such violations and outlined some of the reasons that people pay money to protect themselves. Government involvement in privacy protection is still in development, and the landscape of privacy on the internet is changing from year to year.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is currently reviewing Web tracking practices and seriously considering legislation to force advertisers into complying with ‘no tracking’ requests. This, in my opinion, could have a thoroughly detrimental effect and forever change the internet as we know it.

Everyone today enjoys a relatively cost-free internet thanks largely to revenue derived from advertising, and ads based on past Web activity are proven more effective. Site owners incur costs, and overheads need to be met, take away the advertising revenue and they will be forced to seek an alternative source – and the only viable way for a site to recoup lost ad revenue would be to charge users for content. Is that what we want, a pay-as-you-go internet?

I believe the regulatory authorities should be looking at this issue from an entirely different perspective, and that anonymity is key. We are always being told that tracking is anonymous but there are currently zero guarantees to that effect. Collect a username, an email address, an IP address, cross reference with information on social sites, etc. and it’s goodbye anonymity!

That’s my solution anyway; allow tracking on the proviso that it is strictly anonymous, and impose serious penalties for transgressors – no harm done really and almost guaranteed to keep our internet free.

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Internet Tracking – pros and cons?”

  1. Joe Fisher, Jr. (Big_Daddy)

    I totally agree with the “no tracking* part. I can accept the web advertisers getting a hint as to how many different web site veiwers might possibly get a glimps at their advertisment window/blurb. But, I will have to object to their possibly getting the ip address, in order to spam, of the web surfer.

  2. Hi Jim,

    There’s an EU Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive (refered as the EU Cookie Law on the Internet) which requires websites based in EU to get users’ consent before installing cookies and follow certain rules about storing/ accessing gathered information (The Register and others wrote a number of articles on this).

    Basically, you get a message asking you to accept, blah, blah, blah. Guess what? Since visitors are aware now while no changes have been made to what and how is collected and used, the majority declines the cookies.

    So, yes, the whole thing needs to be re-addressed in the World Wide Web under a global view.

    Reason I mention this is because I recently read on TSA about an interesting Firefox addon called Collusion that examines the cookies on your PC and connects the dots (literaly) on who’s been sharing information with whom.
    The article is “Browser Add-On Shows Exactly Who’s Watching You Surf” and was posted on Sept. 19th.

    Not sure if I can put links here (had a small glitch earlier today), but both are easy to find using any search engine.

    Flying Dutchman

  3. Hey FD – Yes, I read that article myself. Seriously, I can’t see any harm in tracking, as long as it remains strictly anonymous. And it worries me no end when regulatory authorities get involved in this sort of thing – they do have a propensity for getting it wrong!

    Legislation is fine but they must consider the consequences – in my opinion, any legislation should be concentrating on the anonymity aspect and not on preventing tracking. Obviously the majority of people are going to opt out – that’s only human nature. And if the EU standard were to be adopted globally I shudder to think of the possible repercussions.

  4. Hi Jim,

    A standard like the EU one could be adopted globally. But, as I tried and obviously failed to point out, it’s necessary to do two things:
    1. Rrevise what and how info is collected and used.
    2. Set the standard to take #1 into account.
    That way, people would not feel that tracking is violating their anonymity.
    Of course, that requires that all interested parties sit together and talk instead of lobbying against each other, because, imo, this is not just a matter of one side “considering the consequences”.

    As for

    they do have a propensity for getting it wrong!

    I have only one word: lobbying.

    Flying Dutchman

    1. But, as I tried and obviously failed to point out, it’s necessary to do two things
      You didn’t fail FD, but you were merely re-iterating points I had already made.

      imo, this is not just a matter of one side “considering the consequences
      I agree entirely, but it’s a wonderfully idealistic and naive way of looking at it FD. Goes directly to the heart of my point about regulatory/government bodies getting involved; they have a tendency to ask all the wrong questions to all the wrong people and history dictates they will, more often than not, get it wrong. Guess you could say that after a heck of a lot of years experience I have very little faith in governmental driven regulatory systems. 🙂

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