Friday, February 24, 2012

Do Not Track

Better Prospects for Privacy on the Web?

Your web browsing has been tracked since the first time a banner ad appeared over a news story you read on the web in the 1990s. Ad companies want to profile your browsing so that they can show you targeted ads that you might click. The guys who own those ads that you click want buyers, and they pay the ad companies more for serious prospects. So everybody is motivated to track your browsing.

You are very likely a willing party in this. By getting targeted ads and targeted search results, your web experience is tailored to you. I may get ads for sport fishing and classic rock, you might get ads for spinning classes and Lady Gaga concerts.

Some people, though, are not always comfortable with being tracked. Our names may generally not be directly associated with the online profiles that are pieced together from our browsing, but our network addresses are. Those network addresses are often just one step away from our names, so once correlated the data potentially creates a very thorough dossier on us.

Any of us might have reason to want anonymity to access medical or psychological or political resources that are nobody's business but our own. Is it possible to preserve anonymity or at least privacy?

Maybe. The Firefox browser has a Do Not Track feature that allows users to inform web sites that they wish to opt out of third-party tracking. How much protection does that afford today? Hard to say. But the White House released a privacy white paper and framework this week that, among other things, encouraged "multistakeholder efforts" to develop a Do Not Track mechanism. Initial reactions have been favorable, so perhaps the future prospects for privacy on the web just got a little brighter.

Concerned about this topic? Encouraged by the idea of a privacy bill of rights? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.


Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, please give it a +1 and leave a comment. Share it on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. More readers will drive more discussion.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A bit of interesting irony is that giving this blog a +1, or sharing it on a social networking site is a form of tracking. :-)