To track or not to track: Two editors go toe-to-toe in the debate over web advertisers' right to track online browsing behaviour.
Tom Spring: advertisers' online tracking is bad
Note to advertisers who want to track me online: Buzz off.
My privacy is sacrosanct to me, both in my home and online. I have already made enough compromises to accommodate the digital world that I live in. Giving advertisers the green light to profile me, follow me around on the internet, and show me ads based on my behaviour is wrong, and flat-out creepy. It's also potentially dangerous, and it could lead to virtual forms of redlining, leaving the lone consumer at the mercy of powerful companies more interested in their bottom line than my well-being.
I applaud these do-not-track efforts, as well as similar ones by Microsoft and the Mozilla Foundation with their respective browsers, Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4, both of which empower the consumer with do-not-track features (albeit flawed ones).
Right now advertisers have the upper hand. Without legal limits - and because do-not-track controls within IE and Firefox rely on the voluntary participation of websites - consumers are caught in privacy purgatory and have no way to say 'no' to tracking.
Opting in versus opting out
Consumers, at a minimum, deserve the right to choose whether to be tracked - to opt-in. All I'm arguing for is the real option to tell advertisers to go away, not to track me, and to stop displaying ads based on my online behaviour.
That's what the do-not-track measures proposed by the US Congress and in California provide. Both call for websites to get opt-in permission from users before collecting personal data. Proposed regulations would also require web companies to inform users of their data collection and tracking efforts, and would allow civil lawsuits against companies that failed to comply with the regulations.
It's not time to be whistling in the dark, arguing 'I love playing Plants vs. Zombies online for free, so screw my own privacy'.
NEXT PAGE: I'm not paranoid - the threat is real