From a historical perspective, the World Wide Web is new; Google is new; Facebook is new; and tracking is very new. But in a way, everything old has become new again. After all, advertisers are in the business of finding clever ways of crawling into our pockets. Remember all those "negative options?" You know, where you get the first three issues for free, but you can cancel that 30-year magazine subscription anytime? The tactics that are now being used by web sites–promising greater customization but upping the chances of having personal data exposed–aren't really so different, are they? The distinction is that however many magazines we may have accumulated on our coffee tables as a result of those negative options, the tactics that may have put them there didn't threaten our entire financial existence by providing identity thieves with the additional bread crumbs they need to find their way to the back doors of our lives. The digital world has simply magnified the cost, and the likelihood, of abuse by edgy advertising practices.
I believe that until security technology has caught up with tracking and data collection technology, we absolutely need a "Do Not Track" registry. Nowhere on earth has privacy existed without a well-developed means of security. How private can you be if you can't draw the blinds or lock the door?
Instead of introducing haphazard and half-measured legislation about privacy, our elected officials in Washington should be working with industry on something that presents no conflict between the interests of industry and the interests of consumers–real security to prevent the bad guys from getting their hands on our personal information. In tandem, reasonable rules to protect privacy should be enacted to prevent unnecessary intrusions by government, or honest websites, or anybody else. And last but not least (an issue I intend to address in future columns), we need to develop a mechanism to compensate us for use of our data.
In short, you can keep the chickens in the hen house with a fence that's only 2 feet high, but it won't keep out the foxes.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Adam Levin Chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.