Warning! Your are being tracked. Proceed with caution…

There is an article in The Washington Post today about a "surprising" disclosure that some advertising networks are NOT explicitly informing consumers when they track their behavior.  Shocker!  Every major ad network and ad serving company has been tracking consumer behavior without informing consumers for the past ten years.  And ever since Doubleclick’s attempted to purchase Abacus and connect catalog purchase data to web surfing behavior most ad networks have provided a way to opt out of being tracked, which of course almost no one does.

This leads me to ask a few questions to bring some more context to the debate:

  1. Do the press and policy makers understand the difference between collecting anonymous surfing behavior and collecting surfing behavior that can be tied back to an individual household?
  2. Why are credit card companies and catalog companies allowed to collect and sell detailed personal purchase and financial information while lawmakers are up in arms about tracking that is both anonymous and not tied to financial or transactional data?
  3. Is "explicit consent" better than "explicitly informing"?  Is explicit consent practical?
  4. Do consumers really even care?  In my experience most consumers are willing to give up huge amounts of personal information in exchange for things such as coupons, sweepstakes, free membership etc.  One way to test this is to ask the top 50 sites how often a new member looks at their privacy policy when registering.
  5. The U.S. government provides census data that map back to a zip+4  which usually is specific to a few hundred households.  Is data no longer considered personal or need privacy protection when it is about you AND your neighbors? 

What do you think?



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