Much internet ado has been made about the Do Not Track bill in the US, which would let people opt out of internet advertisers' efforts to track their online activities for better-targeted advertising.
Meanwhile in the UK, an EU directive has been tweaked and requires firms to tell web users what information is being stored, and explain the concept of behavioural advertising or adverts tailored to web users based on their browsing activities. The changes come into force on May 25.
On one hand, privacy advocates continually decry the ever-diminishing loss of privacy on the web. On the other hand, advertisers and trade groups claim that the restrictions would make it harder for online publishers to make money on the internet - which means that it would be harder for companies to offer free content (such as this article) or free web apps and services. Two of our editors go toe-to-toe in the debate over web advertisers' right to track online browsing behaviour
Patrick Miller: 'Do Not Track' is no big deal
It's a dilemma, certainly, but as a card-carrying member of the internet and a responsible tech journalist, my allegiance lies firmly with Free.
To be sure, the internet has plenty of things that you should be scared of - child predators, identity theft and crown princes from Nigeria looking for help moving money out of their country all rank pretty high on the list. Tracked and targeted advertising, however, isn't on my list, for three main reasons.
1. This is not the privacy you're looking for
I'm a fan of privacy, generally speaking. I'm big on using my various Facebook privacy settings and ritually detagging pictures after a debauchery-filled evening. I'm so familiar with Google Chrome's Incognito Mode that I don't even know where to find it in the menus because I just use Ctrl-Shift-N. But when it comes to advertisement tracking, I'm not concerned in the least - because that's not the kind of privacy I'm worried about.
The privacy I protect on the internet is privacy from the people in my life who matter. I don't want my boss to know if I'm looking for another job, or my girlfriend to know if I'm having an affair, or my cats to know if I really want a dog. (To my boss/girlfriend/cats: None of that is true, honest - you can check my browser history if you like.) I also don't want complete strangers to be able to dig up intimate details of my life by plugging my name into Google (before a job interview, for example).
Advertisers don't care about any of that. Their tracking cookies are designed to help figure out what kinds of things I'm interested in and send related ads to me. They don't store any personally identifiable information. Nothing in there is tied to my name at all, just my web-browsing behaviour - and frankly, I doubt I'm unique when it comes to that. ('Wow', they'll say, 'this guy doesn't do a whole lot of work.')
Perhaps I'd change my tune if I were to see ads for therapy or loaded handguns after changing my Facebook relationship status to 'Single', but I'm honestly not too worried about Advertising Profile #9001: Young Adult Male Who Likes Computers.
NEXT PAGE: More on why not tracking is not a big deal