Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Four Myths You Should Know About "Do Not Track" Technology.

I had an interesting discussion yesterday in class with my students about technology, ethics, and privacy. Students have many different views on what is right and what is wrong. For example, some feel it is OK to download music without paying for it, while others consider it as stealing. All agreed that our privacy is important, and that technology such as monitoring software can be regarded as an invasion of privacy. This is a topic that is guaranteed to get students talking and contributing in class.

Image from the Privacy Choice Blog.
There are lots of things about the Internet and World-Wide-Web that we don't know about - and one of them is that many of us don't realize how much our activity on the web is tracked by others. Leslie Harris (President and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology) writes in the ABCNews website in an article Diving into 'Do Not Track' that "third-party companies typically contract with websites for permission to track your behavior across many, many sites". He sites the example of Dictionary.com (which I use) who "contract with hundreds of these data collectors (many of whom are advertising networks or are associated with advertising networks)".

Your tracking information is valuable, and these "third-party companies" are prepared to pay for this information. Expect to see the browser companies in the near future add a "Do Not Track" feature.

Leslie goes on in his article to discuss four myths we should know about "Do Not Track" technology. These are:
  1. Do Not Track Puts the Government in Charge of the Internet
  2. We Need a New Law for Do Not Track to Work
  3. Do Not Track Will Kill the Internet
  4. Do Not Track Is a Panacea for Modern Privacy Problems
In the above points, Leslie uses advertising to illustrate his points - this is the big target for data aggregators. The video below from ABCNews about tracking makes for very interesting viewing:

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