Browsers stop trackers in their tracks

If you’re reading this blog post, you have some stake in the proposal brought up by the FTC this past December. Because of concerns for internet user confidentiality and lack of clarity with privacy settings, the FTC proposed a “no track list” similar to the “no call list” created in 2002 for telemarketers.

In 2011, advertisers and marketers have a much better shot of reaching potential customers through internet than telephone. The catch? Some people don’t realize they are being watched. Entire companies are devoted to tracking the searches, online purchases and general online activities of internet users. That data is compiled into a “profile” of the user and sold to advertising and marketing agencies.

Currently a “suggestion,” the FTC proposal would begin legislation to protect the privacy of internet users.  They suggest that the best way to do this would be for internet users to be able to choose a privacy option on their browser that prevents them from being tracked.

Some browsers such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are already beginning to take action to provide a “no track” option for users, upgrading from some features they were already providing to users.

However, there are some problems with the proposal. For the system to work in its current form, website operators must agree to stop tracking and go along with the web browser “no track” command.  There is no set system yet, and each web browser is currently using different techniques.

Even if both parties (web browsers and website operators) work together, some websites may recognize that users have opted out of tracking and provide less content to those consumers.  Some websites rely on ad based revenue to run and may no longer be able to continue providing a free service to the public. USA Today outlines some interesting implications for advertisers and consumers.

There is certainly a case to be made about protecting the privacy of internet users. Advertisers and companies who collect consumer profiles are not fully forthcoming about their tracking actions. In order for there to be a relationship of trust between advertisers and consumers, internet users need to be aware that they are being watched.

As an advertising student I can also see the perspective of the advertisers. Advertisers have an obligation to their clients to place media in the most effective way possible. If they no longer have a way to target advertisements, they will not be able to deliver results to their clients. Clients will be more hesitant about website advertisements and some website may no longer be able to deliver free content, which ultimately hurts consumers.

So that leaves the question—sacrifice free content or your privacy?

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5 Responses to Browsers stop trackers in their tracks

  1. Amy Hopkinson says:

    There needs to be a more specific term on “our privacy” what exactly is this consisting of because there is personal information such as credit cards, bank account information, social security number, etc that no one wants out there. Than there is information on me looking up concert tickets for Kenny Chesney indicating that I am a country fan and throwing me into a category specific for that. Which in my opinion could benefit me because advertisements are being brought to my attention on other country singers or concerts or events that I would love to explore. I don’t think this kind of grouping is necessary a bad thing. Like you said you can get through to the public more by internet these days than by phone so it’s understanding that the advertisers are trying to understand and utilize this growing technology to the best of their ability. So in my opinion it is ethical to want to enhance and benefit consumers such as ourselves. However, it does freak my out a little that there is not set plan to how this all works. This change in the way the ad world is getting their information to public profile certain areas in the world is all new to me and I’m guessing many others as well. I don’t think that many of us realize that when we click the ‘I accept’ terms that in the fine print we are giving permission to the website to leak/sell our interests to help benefit themselves.

  2. Elizabeth Jue says:

    It is the advertiser’s job to track down people who may be possible consumers of their product, and I believe that reaching customers through the internet is just another one of their tactics. This is no surprise to me because whenever we purchase something on the internet and give our contact information out to an organization, we sign up for so many more advertisements / emails for other products that are similar to the one we just purchased. I would say this is only fair to us and the advertisers because nothing is secret nowadays, not our interests, nor our contact information. Organizations may seem to break rules to advertise, but in actuality, it does not cross boundaries and it does not break the law. The internet connects us to different users worldwide. It is only expected that our privacy is going to be invaded. All in all, advertisers have a job to do for their clients, and we will always be the target for these ads they produce.

  3. Sarah says:

    I also think that the word “privacy” needs to be clearly defined when it comes to where we are being tracked. As a student studying Public Relations and Advertising I understand the need to target your audience to be able to direct ads that are relevant to us. Although if they are able to track us and see our credit cards, personal emails, or online banking sites it is unethical. However if someone does decide that they do not want to be tracked at all websites should respect this. I think that many people if given all the facts would understand that being tracked is a benefit because they will be able to keep free sites, and have ads that may relate to them. Although there needs to be a guarantee that the advertiser will not track them in places that is personal and should be kept private. I think what the FTC is doing is okay because I feel that people should be able to choose whether they want to be tracked or not.

  4. allison.perone says:

    I believe that online tracking is unethical and an invasion of privacy. The mere fact that many users do not even know that their online history is being viewed by advertisers to create an online “profile” of what users like and want is unlawful.

    I think that the the FCC proposal is a good thing, although I believe that online tracking has already grown to such an extent that the proposal is probably not practical today. The presentation in class further explained how many sites do not even take users who choose to be untracked seriously and many people who click the “do not track” button are being limited to what content they can view online, which I also feel is discrimination.

    As an advertiser I do believe that being able to target your audience directly and on such a personal level is beneficial I feel that is a violation of privacy.

  5. Since I have been using computers since I was young, my parents always reinforced to me that anything I post on the internet is public domain. That there is very limited privacy for any information that you make publicly available. Advertisers are just using this information as part of research to target their intended audience. I think it’s fair, since we are essentially providing it to them.

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