“That has firms like Google Inc and Facebook Inc that rely heavily on collecting user data worried that any legislation could lead to cuts in online advertising that would eat into their profits,” Melvin reports. “The U.S. administration has looked to an Internet standards setting body, already eyeing a ‘Do Not Track’ mechanism and with an aggressive timeline in place, to corral everyone into a room and onto teleconferences to reach a deal. With over 10 months of talks under the group’s belt, they are still talking but are arguably no closer to an agreement than when they started. The sides are so far apart that they don’t even agree on what ‘Do Not Track’ means.”
Melvin reports, “To privacy advocates, it is halting data collection so a consumer can surf the Web without any prying eyes collecting information about their online activities for economic gain. To the industry, however, it means not targeting ads to a consumer based on their Web viewing history, but data collection would continue for other purposes. The next step, if no consensus is reached by year’s end, will likely test regulatory and congressional threats of legislation to enforce Internet privacy.”
“This puts Internet companies in the midst of an existential dilemma as their business models rely on consumers parting with their personal information to bolster ad revenue,” Melvin reports. “Online advertisers and Web companies say such data is now the lifeblood of the Internet. ‘If you get rid of that, you kill the Internet. It’s just that simple,’ Linda Woolley, executive vice president of government affairs at the Direct Marketing Association, said of the dangers of ceasing data collection.”
“What some once viewed as a sideline – collecting and selling consumers’ data to advertisers – the Internet ecosystem took on as its main source of revenue, in return providing consumers with free Web content and services,” Melvin reports. “Any clamp down on data collection deals a blow to their bottom lines. Targeting has almost tripled what brands pay websites to run ads, and companies like Google and Facebook rely heavily on advertising for the bulk of their revenue. U.S. online ad revenue was just shy of $15 billion in the first half of 2011, 23 percent higher than the previous year.”
Melvin reports, “In recent years Internet giants have gotten into trouble for various privacy abuses, including secretly tracking users’ locations and selling consumers’ data to advertisers without their knowledge. Both Google, the world’s No. 1 search engine, and Facebook, the No. 1 social networking site, reached settlements with the FTC last year because of privacy problems. The faux pas got regulators’ attention… Representatives Edward Markey and Joe Barton, co-chairmen of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, wrote to the W3C last month championing a “Do Not Track” definition that bars accumulating, using and sharing personal data. ‘Joe Barton is one of the most conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives, and Ed Markey is one of the most liberal,’ said Consumer Watchdog’s John Simpson. ‘The fact that those two guys can come together on this leads me to believe that privacy is likely to be one of the issues where there will be bipartisan agreement about the need to do something.’”
Much more in the full article here.
MacDailyNews Take: We’d love to be able to stipulate which sites can be tracked by advertisers and which cannot.
For example: Say you’re in the market for running shoes. You would allow advertisers to see that you went to Zappos, Finish Line, Mizuno, etc. and what you browsed (sizes, colors, type, etc.) so then you can get served relevant ads that might be useful to you in your quest (better prices, choice of widths, shoes you might like but haven’t heard about, etcetera). However, you can block the fact that you went to a health website and what ailments you researched or that you visited a political website to donate to a campaign, etc.
Such granular control would be quite useful for power users. However, making it usable for those who think the Internet is the blue ‘e” is another story altogether. It seems like something only Apple could figure out and implement well. A stop and go situation where you have to tell each site “track” or “do not track” the first time you visit seems unwieldy, although that would do the job in brute force fashion and would certainly ease over time as you built up your white and black lists. If you gave users a “Do Not Track” master button, you’d kill a great deal of advertising and might likely introduce strange consequences. For example: Sites that are free for those who allow some level of tracking, but require subscription fees for these who have “Do Not Track” enabled.
As usual, it’s a can of worms.
Google to pay $22.5 million to settle charges over bypassing privacy settings of millions of Apple users – July 10, 2012
Apple’s anti-user tracking policy has mobile advertisers scrambling – May 9, 2012
Obama’s privacy plan puts pinch on Google – February 24, 2012