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FTC Proposes Do Not Track Option for Web Browsers

FTC Proposes Do Not Track Option for Web Browsers

FTC Proposes Do Not Track Option for Web Browsers Online advertising is the lifeblood of the web, allowing publishers to provide free content and free web services, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google services and practically anything else you can read, use or enjoy without a paid subscription on the web. An online marketing strategy known as “behavioral targeting” helps increase the profitability of online display advertising and text advertising by showing viewers ads that are tailored to their interests. From advertisers, this is pitched as a win-win situation. The advertisers get higher click through rates from more qualified visitors and the readers and users are subjected to less ads that are irrelevant or uninteresting to them. But the technology behind behavioral targeting has many individuals and privacy advocates up in arms. In fact, the practice of behavioral targeting has even spurred the FTC into action.
The reason that behavioral targeting gives many users the “heebie jeebies” is the way it builds profiles of each user. Web sites collect data about your browsing behavior by checking which websites you’ve visited, which search queries you performed and other information about your activity online. It then references this data in order to target ads to you. While this information is collected anonymously and use solely for behavioral targeting (no one’s data is being broadcast via some kind of Truman Show-esque voyeur, as far as we know), the opacity of this information collection process has many users feeling uneasy. Privacy advocates worry that data collection could be abused, say, for building databases of suspected criminal or political dissidents in order to track them down and persecute them, as has been done in Iran and China.
The FTC’s Do No Track proposal would seek to add more transparency to data collection for use in behavioral targeting. It would add a dashboard to all browsers that allowed users to opt out of having their personal data collected for marketing purposes or other uses. While having the option opt out of target advertising campaigns may seem like an obvious boon, the secondary impacts may be more than we as consumers bargained for. The reality is that much of the free content we enjoy today is subsidized by targeting advertising. And by removing this tool from the advertiser’s tool box, you’re limiting the ability for publishers and web service providers to provide free content. In other words, the Do Not Track option may put an end to surreptitious data collection, but it may also mean that less of what we see on the Internet will be free.
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