The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed implementing a “Do Not Track” list similar to the “Do Not Call” list implemented against telemarketers. PC World explains the process is similar in scope to telephone advertisers who call unannounced trying to make a sale. Consumers who would opt out of being on tracking lists should be able to see less advertising as they browse the Internet. Users who sign up for the “Do Not Track” list would be able to have programming installed on their web browsers to prevent companies from tracking their search data.
While the FTC proposal has merit, several factors will have to come together to make it work. Here’s why I think it is both a good and bad idea to have a “Do Not Track” list.
Many times, Internet users have complained of privacy problems regarding web browsers and social networking websites such as Facebook. A “Do Not Track” list would certainly go a long way in helping to ease concerns.
With advertising bombarding children all the time, unsuspecting Internet users who may not know their privacy settings on browsers or common websites may get more advertising than they bargain for. If children click on an ad and it takes them to an objectionable website geared for adults, then there can be problems regarding children’s use of the Internet.
Even deleting cookies on your computer may not stop companies from getting your searches, according to Wired. The way many advertisers work is they scan your web browser’s cookies, which have been downloaded by other websites, in order to discover what websites you frequent the most. Advertisers can then target specific ads to your searches.
It can be disconcerting for users, even myself, to wonder how a particular company knew I went to a particular website. If users are suddenly getting e-mails and ads from a company they didn’t give their e-mail to, it becomes a problem of consumers thinking their computer has been hacked. Advertisers have gotten very tricky and go beyond just submitting your e-mail to various websites.
The FTC has no authority to enforce any rules–Congress will have to decide what to do about Internet privacy. The law may get watered down after lobbyists get a hold of Congress.
Like the “Do Not Call” list, there will be exceptions for advertisers to get around the law. There were fears that once cell phone numbers became part of public directories, advertisers would be able to call your mobile phone at any time. The FTC had to reassure cell phone users their privacy was intact.
Web browser companies will have to install programming onto their software to enable the “Do Not Track” list. How each company utilizes the program may differ and there may be bugs, fixes and loopholes advertisers may exploit.
Even if there are bad reasons for the law, the FTC is taking a step in the right direction. Advertisers will adapt as they always do to try to bring in more revenue from the millions of Internet users in the United States. In light of many privacy concerns, the FTC’s regulations are a prudent idea to help protect consumers on the Internet.
Gross, Grant, “FTC Calls for Online Do-not-track List to Protect Privacy,” PC World.
FTC, “FTC Staff Issues Privacy Report Offers Framework for Consumers, Businesses, and Policymakers.”
Singel, Ryan, “FTC Backs ‘Do Not Track’ Browser Setting,”Wired.
FTC, “The Truth About Cell Phones and the National Do Not Call Registry.”