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?