Do Not Track Tool for Online Advertising

December 1st, 2010 by Chris

From here.

WASHINGTON – Federal regulators are proposing to create a “Do Not Track” tool for the Internet so that people could prevent marketers from tracking their Web browsing habits and other online behavior in order to target advertising.

The proposal, inspired by the government’s existing “Do Not Call” registry for telemarketers, is one of a series of recommendations outlined in a privacy report released Wednesday by the Federal Trade Commission. The report lays out a broad framework for protecting consumer privacy both online and offline as personal data collection becomes ubiquitous — often without consumer knowledge.

This is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard.

What can you track online? Cookies and IP addresses. Cookies are fully 100% in the control of the individual user, if a user does not know how to block them in their browser settings they need eduction, not legislation. I cannot fathom that anyone would actually propose a law to limit the right of a website to read and write cookies to a browser if the browser software is set by the user to explicitly allow it.

So, I can only think that they believe that we need some sort of IP based do not track list.

The problem is that people can share IPs (to the tune of thousands on one), that one person can have more than one IP, and that IPs can and do regularly change.

So if paranoid Bob adds his IP to the “do not track list” he is also adding it for Shopper Susan who happens to like getting relevant and tailored advertisements, because they share an IP. Or perhaps one day the ISP switches IPs and suddenly George, who never signed up for the same reason as Susan, is on the list because he has Bob’s old IP.

What is perhaps more interesting is the fact that to sign up you would have to claim your IP address via some government database. So the government would have a free database of people and their related IP addresses. Right now the government can only get that data from ISPs with a court order. And, in general, unless you give a website your personal information, they will never know the name behind the IP.

So paranoid Bob who signs up with the big government do not track list is actually REDUCING his privacy because now his name and his IP are on a list. Could be that this information is then made public. So you go from an anonymous number on the Internet, to a name. Privacy this does not make.

People, if you really don’t want to get ads for stuff you might actually want to buy, turn off browser cookies. If you don’t know how to do that, ask a teenager. If you still can’t figure it out, pay some overpriced security company for their software to do it for you. Then tell your government to deal with real problems, like the economy and North Korea.

And another thing… how would you even tell if someone violated the “do not track” list unless government is looking over the shoulder of every Internet business in the world and requiring daily reports? You know when the Do Not Call list has been violated because you get a phone call. How do you know when the do not track list has been violated? “Hello Government, Bob here, yes again, I just saw an ad that was just a little too relevant if you ask me. Do something about it.” Really you’d need to legislate companies do the reporting, probably by filing out some form outlining compliance practices, with random audits. Lovely.

I can see a lot of false positives too. Poor old Bob is going to get confused by IP geolocating when he stumbles upon an AdultFriendFinder ad for “Hot girls in Springfield” and panic “Oh my god they know where I live!”

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