Diving into 'Do Not Track'


Each of the major browser makers -- Google, Microsoft and Mozilla -- is taking a different approach to Do Not Track technology. But Do Not Track is under attack from some who prefer the current balance of power between consumers and trackers to remain tilted in favor of the trackers.

This power struggle has fertilized a number of growing myths on both sides of the debate -- it's time to do some weeding.

Myth: Do Not Track Puts the Government in Charge of the Internet

While , Do Not Track was inspired by the FTC's Do Not Call registry, which has been one of the most successful government-led consumer protection and privacy initiatives in decades, it does not require the same level of government intervention

To make Do Not Track work, the government does not need to maintain any kind of registry. That means no registry of Internet users, no registry of advertisers, no registry of publishers. It simply requires browsers to build the tools and trackers to respect the desires of the consumer.

Government pressure has and should continue to encourage these innovations, but technology platforms don't need the government to get Do Not track off the ground. Many believe that Do Not Track will work only if the government dictates the technology and imposes a single solution on the market, but doing so now will simply stop innovation in its tracks.

The fact is that the major browsers have taken different approaches, and we don't yet know which will work best for consumers. Or whether another approach yet to be unveiled will win the day. We need to encourage a race to the top, not determine a winner prematurely

Myth: We Need a New Law for Do Not Track to Work

It is perhaps overly optimistic to suggest that Do Not Track will work without a "stick" or new legal mechanism for forcing companies to respect consumers' express statement: "Do not track me!"

Legislation that spells out this enforcement mandate has already been proposed, but new legislation is probably not needed to keep companies from violating a Do Not Track request.

The FTC already has the power to pursue companies who engage in deceptive or unfair business practices. The FTC could make clear that violating a Do Not Track request would be considered a deceptive practice and then demonstrate its commitment by bringing enforcement actions.

Myth: Do Not Track Will Kill the Internet

Today, behavioral advertising that links ads to information from tracked consumers makes up a small percentage of the overall multi-billion dollar online ad marketplace. No one knows how many consumers will actually choose to opt out of being tracked, and what's important, Do Not Track does not allow users to opt out of advertising, ad reporting or many types of web analytics.

Users who tell companies "Do not track me!" will see the same number of ads, but these ads will be based on the content of the website they are visiting instead of a dossier of information about the user that has been compiled by tracking their online movements.

Companies also have the option of using Do Not Track as a kind of digital bouncer: If you are blocking their sites, you get no access to their material. Not blocking? You get full website access. That's not a new concept.

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