Do Not Track!

May 09, 2011
Tom Ryan

Mimicking the "do not call" laws passed to stop over-aggressive
soliciting by telemarketers, lawmakers on Friday indicated they plan to introduce
two "do
not track" privacy bills to enable people to block companies from following
their activity on the internet.

The "do not track" rule push, first
recommended by the Federal Trade Commission, reflects an increasing focus on
passing first-time privacy for all internet users.

In the House, Reps. Edward
Markey, D-Mass. and Joe Barton, R-Texas issued a draft House bill with bipartisan
support that would prohibit companies from tracking children on the internet
without parental consent and require an "eraser
button" that would allow parents to eliminate kids’ personal information
already online. Companies would have to get parental consent to collect location
information from children 12 and younger. Teens would have to expressly agree
to location collection.

It also specifies that the privacy rules would apply
to mobile phone apps, an area unregulated by the government.

"We have reached a troubling point in the state of business when
companies that conduct business online are so eager to make a buck, they resort
to targeting our children," Mr. Barton said in a statement issued on
Friday. "I
strongly believe that information should not be collected on children and used
for commercial purposes."

Meanwhile, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. said
he would introduce a bill covering all internet users, making it illegal for
websites and marketers to track anyone who had opted out of data collection.
The measure would also require companies to destroy user information or make
it anonymous once it is no longer useful. The FTC would be in charge of enforcement.
He also plans to conduct a hearing about mobile privacy later this month.

"Consumers have a right to know when and how their personal and sensitive
information is being used online," said Mr. Rockefeller, in a statement.

such bills, web firms have argued that online tracking helps deliver targeted
advertising that pays for free web content and services. They also note that
that tools can be created to help users manage tracking. Microsoft and Mozilla
have come up with browser-based privacy controls without government mandates.

"I’ve asked for a waiver of Senate ethics rules so I can give Sen. Rockefeller
a gift he really needs — an iPad," Steve DelBianco, executive director
of NetChoice, a trade group that represents web firms including AOL, eBay and
Expedia, said to the Washington Post. "The senator can see for
himself how interest tracking lets advertisers pay for all those free apps
and web services that regular Americans love to use."

Discussion Questions: Should Congress pass “do not track” legislation? If passed, what would it mean for mobile and internet marketing?

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14 Comments on "Do Not Track!"

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Max Goldberg
9 years 11 months ago

There is a need to find some middle ground on this topic. Consumer tracking is a lot less ominous than it sounds, and websites need to take better care to track only what is necessary and protect that data in a way that allays consumers’ fears. Consumers like having free access to websites and most understand that free access comes with advertising. They may not be distinguishing between tracking for advertising and gathering personal and payment information, where there have been many problems of late.

Targeting children is another matter. There has been general pushback over the past 15 years regarding gathering information about children’s computer usage. Advertisers could build goodwill in Congress by yielding when it comes to marketing to children in exchange for continued tracking (within reason) of adults.

Paula Rosenblum
9 years 11 months ago

I can’t imagine this is even remotely enforceable…even using the Do Not Call list as a model. How many of us never get those calls anymore? And like the Do Not Call list, there’s always a way around these things.

I can just see people sitting around at their computers looking for tracking cookies and dropping a dime on all the various web sites they visit.

I think it’s a bad idea to pass unenforceable laws. But that’s just me.

Liz Crawford
9 years 11 months ago

Instead of “Do Not Track” Laws, we need mandatory “Opt-In” Laws. It is human nature to follow the path of least resistance. So, the default should be that companies do not track customers. Rather, the marketing should be so attractive that customers will wish to opt-in. The onus is on the marketer to induce engagement. Otherwise, it’s just officious intermeddling.

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
9 years 11 months ago

Although I’m a huge advocate of the open web, consumers have a right to whatever sense of security (false or otherwise) that they wish.

But more importantly, the news for marketers that haven’t awakened to it is that we have moved to a permission based marketing world. The days of the cold-call, unsolicited mail and spam are rapidly nearing an end. Companies have to create products, experiences and messages that consumers actually WANT to take part in. This will require creativity, craftsmanship and really cool products–things many marketers have been trying to sidestep for the last 60 years in favor of mass marketing junk.

Evan Schuman
Evan Schuman
9 years 11 months ago

The Do Not Track efforts have thus far been severe overreach. What Congress passes a law that says retail managers are not allowed to listen to customers and to then use those comments to make better inventory decisions? Or to use cameras to watch how customers walk through a store?

Politicians have often tried passing laws to restrict that which they do not understand. Remember the early days of the Web? “Ooooohhh. The Internet is going to make crimes easier and attack our youth.” Yeah, so will telephones. Want to ban them?

The online tracking is an e-tailer’s attempts to replicate the kind of capabilities that have existed in-store for decades.

Ed Rosenbaum
9 years 11 months ago

I do not think the proposed bills will pass as currently written. There will need to be some negotiating for a more acceptable common ground, as written earlier before this will go much further. Enacting the bill into law may be the easy part. Policing will be an entirely different story. Good luck on this.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
9 years 11 months ago

Maybe if the companies explained what would be tracked, why, and what value would be provided to the consumers, the consumers would choose an opt-in method. In the US, consumers have a track record of waiving privacy if the information they provide results in value to them.

W. Frank Dell II
9 years 11 months ago

Once again, old laws don’t cover the internet. Do not track for our children should be a no brainer, but it should be to age 18 when you can vote. America is and should be free, meaning do not track should be an individual decision. Some individuals may see the value and others may not.

On the other side, the government should have the ability to track for security and criminal issues.

Jonathan Marek
9 years 11 months ago

Whenever a politician says “do it for the children,” it makes me worry. If that were really the purpose, one could go at the problem with a scalpel not a machete.

The comparison to “do not call” is also flawed. One is an invasive tactic that disrupts my life. The other is passive and may actually make my user experience better.

The reality is that consumers have voted with their virtual feet–they want free, and they are willing to be tracked, so long as you don’t ask them in a poll. How many people do you know who have done a simple Google search, or looked at IE help, to figure out how to disable tracking cookies?

James Tenser
9 years 11 months ago
The “do not track” discussion triggers several thoughts and questions: As much as I believe in the opt-in principal, marketers will always have a strong (and some would say reasonable) need to reach out to new prospects. How can rules and practices be established that permit legitimate marketers to initiate relationships? It makes sense to draw the line at children, where the potential for exploitation looms. But the process of collecting parental permissions sounds cumbersome. A system that is too complicated or time consuming for parents, will not be well-used. A “do not track” registry would present an almost irresistible target for hackers. Who do we propose would maintain that list and keep it secure? At the same time, establishing a broad new enforcement mandate for the FTC would contribute to the expansion of government that so many of us sensibly wish to rein in. Finally, to help meet the enforcement challenge: Could we grant one or more levels of “certification” for legitimate interactive marketers? Or maybe even a scoring system for marketers patterned after… Read more »
Matthew Keylock
Matthew Keylock
9 years 11 months ago
Rapid expansion of digital capabilities have out-paced both the law and many individuals’ ability to keep up with it. It seems to me that the world has flipped from a place where your information was private and you had to work hard to make it public (if you wanted to), to a world where your data is public and you have to work hard to keep it private. While there are some tech-savvy people out there who know how to protect themselves and keep on top of this, most do not. To me there is a clear need for better protection of consumer interests. At some point in the future I think the consumer will have the ultimate control of access to their data. They will provide this access to businesses that are relevant to them. However, as it is, many consumers are happy to sign away access for very small benefits or simply immediate consumption/convenience. Unsurprisingly many business models have developed based on the current access rights. Going to no-tracking could kill some businesses… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
9 years 11 months ago

I think Camille has it. Until marketers can explain why they need to virtually follow customers around, customers are going to be creeped out by it, and will complain to their Members of Congress.

Larry Negrich
9 years 11 months ago

I don’t want the government to begin this huge waste of time and effort under the guise of protecting the children as I don’t think they would be able to accomplish this anyway. What the government can do is make people more aware of tracking practices so that they (consumers) can arm their devices with any anti-tracking technology they feel comfortable with implementing. And so the consumer can push software service providers, internet service providers, etc., to build in mechanisms to allow users to control tracking to levels that they are comfortable with.

Kai Clarke
9 years 11 months ago

This is a serious matter of personal privacy and personal communication interference by unsolicited, illegal use of technology. Absolutely! Our personal freedoms are guaranteed by our constitution, especially our highly coveted freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc. Any tracking without prior approval, goes contrary to the foundations of our constitution which our country was built upon.


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