October 31, 2007

Not on Track with "Do Not Track"

Greetings. Several groups have just proposed to the FTC that a "Do Not Track" Internet list be created, somewhat in the vein of the "Do Not Call" phone solicitation "block" list.

While it's way too early at this stage to make definitive statements about the details of such a concept, you might be surprised to hear that my initial reaction to the idea is running significantly toward the negative.

Given my long-standing concerns regarding what I call "data creep" and diffusion of collected user transactional data into increasingly disparate "domains" of use, one might expect me to be enthusiastic about such a list. I'm not.

I'll have lots more to say about this if the plan seems to gather any traction, but my gut feeling is that the concept is ripe both for the "be careful what you wish for" and the "law of unintended consequences" booby prizes.

I touched on some of this back in September in Blocking Web Ads -- And Paying the Piper, to the extent that if we're really ready to fundamentally restrict the advertising basis of most Web services today, we'd better be ready to pony up the bucks to pay for Internet-based services that we now get for free. I'm not convinced that most people really want to go in that direction. I know that I don't.

Behavioral tracking can definitely be abused. But frankly, the concept of a massive government-mandated opt-out list applied to that space gives me cold shivers. I can offhand think of a bunch of ways that such a plan -- for a variety of technical reasons -- could essentially blow up and make matters far worse rather than better, and that's not even taking into account the potentially derailed business models, resulting realignments, and out-of-pocket payments that would newly become the burden of consumers.

Perhaps the push for "Do Not Track" will serve as a wake-up call for Internet firms, reminding them that they need to be more proactive in terms of self-limiting their collection and use of such data -- to applications that will not be perceived as abusive -- or else risk the government moving in and throwing a massive monkey-wrench into their operations.

Overall, I'd much rather see the industry seriously self-regulate this area, because all else being equal -- to horribly mangle a classic movie line -- "We don't need more stinkin' lists!"

And that's the truth.


Posted by Lauren at October 31, 2007 07:59 PM | Permalink
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