PORTLAND, OR, United States – There is a movement in individual states and at federal level of the United States Government to institute laws to restrict how online companies store and utilize information on visitors and users of websites. Such sites as Google and Facebook are front and center as the US Congress, Obama Administration and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) all separately look into how personal information is used online.
Also called “Do Not Track” legislation, the government is looking to give consumers more personal power as to how information is gathered, utilized and potentially sold to third party sites. The Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011 was introduced by Jay Rockefeller, a Senator from West Virginia and the Chairman on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
The bill would create a ‘legal obligation’ for online companies to honor the choice of consumers who somehow indicate they do not want to be tracked online. Also, the measure would give the FTC the power to pursue any company who does not honor the request.
Many Web companies and advertisers are, of course, leery of any broad legislation that would change the nature in which they operate currently. Now, via cookies and other web technologies, can track web usage and tailor web experiences accordingly.
What’s a real-world example of how this works? Envision a use case with Amazon.com. Feeling the urge to buy a new toaster, you search for and purchase a model with all the features you want. Then, two days later, you visit Amazon.com on a lunch break (of course) and start to think about the canisters on your kitchen shelf and how you’d like to buy new ones to match the toaster. Because of web technologies (cookies, etc), Amazon senses the fact that you visited the other day and automatically shows you other kitchen items. You find a set of canisters and leave the site happy because Amazon.com shepherded you along in the process.
However, there is a flip side, and the Privacy Bill goes after this scenario. Say for example, Amazon sells your surfing data to a third party (I’m not suggesting they would do this), and wherever you go online, whether it’s browsing Facebook or doing searches on Google, kitchen appliances follow you everywhere you go. Or, perhaps taking this a bit further – what if you check into a doctor’s office on Facebook and are then greeted with ads during your web surfing based on your check-in. Sounds a bit creepy, eh?
Personal tracking extends to the mobile sphere as well. Ovi Maps, along with other mapping services used on other platforms, tracks user location data for operational statistics. Also, real-time traffic is available because other users’ location is tracked on main roads throughout the world. Location based services are become very popular and therefore tracking becomes useful to some people and quite creepy in other people’s eyes.
There are pros and cons to personal tracking online. By being able to gather usage data, the web becomes personal and gives you a unique experience online. Also, advertising supported websites and services wouldn’t exist it the advertising wasn’t there, creating more fees as we surf the web. However, extensive tracking becomes creepy and has severe privacy concerns.
How do you feel on the issue? Are you OK with company tracking you through technologies such as cookies and unique personal identifiers?