Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Do not Call... Do not Fax... Now Do not Track?

Cookies - Treats? Or, Data?Those of you who think cookies are delicious little treats that add inches to waistlines, can stop reading right here. You are so far behind the times that you’re a living fossil.

But if you know that “cookies” is the computer term for software that tracks individuals as they meander around in the web universe, then maybe you ought to read on.

If you have a website that tracks who has been visiting, where they went on your site and how long they stayed on each page, then you should read on.

If you share/sell/rent your website data, then you must read on.

The Federal Trade Commission is considering a “do-not-track” registry similar to the Do Not Call list that still plagues telemarketers and brought a once noble (but awfully annoying) industry to its knees.

Virtual StalkingEquating online tracking to virtual stalking, the proposed registry would allow consumers to demand that their personal browsing proclivities be protected from prying eyes of Big Brother advertisers. Thus individuals would gain more control over how their personal information is collected and used.

Nice idea, but is it do-able? Enforceable? Geekier heads than mine are pondering those philosophical and practical issues.

There is also talk of self-regulation (like that idea ever works! Just ask Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns).

The proposed Best Practices Act, introduced in July, asks websites to seek opt-in permission from consumers before sharing their data with third parties. The legislation does, however, exempt companies that purport to self-regulate. Whatever that means. The door is still ajar, and there are those who will figure out how to squeeze through the tiny opening.
Just how the registry would work is to be determined. And just how the personal cloak-of-invisibility would work is also to be determined.

It is likely that privacy legislation will be debated in Congress after the elections. It is just as likely that industry trade groups will be loud in their response.

Expect a long and loud discussion. After all, crystal ball gazers predict that online advertising will exceed 17% of all advertising dollars by 2014. There is simply too much money at stake for either side to give up without a fight.

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