October 10, 2012

Putting a Stake in the Coffin of "Do Not Track"

I could have predicted this. Actually, I *did* predict this.

The latest report from ZDNet confirms that the always Kafkaesque Web advertising "Do Not Track" effort is flying off the rails in all directions.

And while I have my own overall take on these issues that is not the same as that article's in key respects, I do agree with it's ultimate conclusion:

It's time to kill Do Not Track.

Yes, end it. The sooner the better.

For ages now, the Do Not Track standardization effort has been looking like a plot arc from the surrealistic old TV series Green Acres.

Over a year ago, in my Do-Not-Track, Doctor Who, and a Constellation of Confusion white paper and other essays, I noted that there haven't even been really viable definitions of what tracking in these contexts even actually means.

This is not a simple matter. There is an entire complex of issues involved -- technical, policy, and even political in nature.

An example of how utterly messed up things have gotten is exemplified by the meltdown triggered when Microsoft recently (and fully in character) decided to duplicitously pander by ignoring the user choice component of the developing Do Not Track standard, and instead substitute its own decision, causing an immediate and appropriate rebuke from Mozilla.

And cookies. Ah yes, cookies. Whenever someone mentions "tracking" they usually toss the cookies in their next breath. But Web cookies -- so necessary to the fundamental operations of most websites, have been turned into political pawns, resulting in bizarre operational effects that make Federico Fellini look like a staid documentary filmmaker.

Google is raked over the coals and massively fined for implementing cookie handling for the Safari browser in a manner necessary to make basic functionalities operate correctly, and in a manner that was explicitly understood to be necessary by Safari developers.

Meanwhile, regulators in Europe jumped the shark completely, imposing a useless requirement that sites display a "will you accept our cookies?" banner that won't go away unless you accept the cookie that holds the status of your choice regarding whether you will or won't accept cookies! Huh? Say what?

Yep, you have to accept a cookie to reject the cookies, and if you don't accept any cookies, you'll usually keep seeing that banner query every time you visit the sites, and in some cases can't even get deeper into the sites at all.

Welcome to Bozo Web! Let's see how many Web regulators pop out of that teeny, tiny car in the center ring!

But don't laugh too hard. While politicians on one hand tout their crackdowns on the usually anonymous advertising systems that help keep so many Web services free, many of the same politicos are pushing for massive government data retention programs, vast warrantless wiretapping projects, deep surveillance of financial and commercial transactions, encompassing CCTV camera nets, vehicle license plate readers, automobile driver monitoring, and on ... and on ... and on.

Golly, it's almost as if someone were trying to divert our attention from genuine, serious privacy concerns, by waving the advertising cookies Do Not Track red cape in front of our faces -- like a toreador preparing a bull for the coup de grāce.

The current Do Not Track effort is yet another example of hype masquerading as reality. We see enough insane hype in our ongoing political races. It's horrible enough there, and in the technical realm can cause a different form of devastation as well, with broad collateral damage likely on many fronts.

It's long past time to get our priorities straight. There are many critical privacy concerns -- but ad display Do Not Track isn't one of them.

Use a stake. Use a silver bullet. Solemnly intone "Klaatu barada nikto."

But let's focus on real privacy issues that affect our fundamental freedoms, and let's put the ad display Do Not Track effort out of its misery.


Posted by Lauren at October 10, 2012 11:43 AM | Permalink
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