Should the Internet be governed? This is a very contemporary, and pivotal, choice that will guide the future of the Web. Over the next few weeks, we will be discussing the issues that are inspiring the industry to answer this question: who has the authority?
Part 1: Online Privacy
Recently, the FTC resurfaced an online privacy proposal which would establish a Do Not Track list. This legislation (think: telemarketers’ Do Not Call list, but for digital) would allow online shoppers to opt-out of behavioral advertisements which “follow” them around the Web—storing cookies with information about their shopping and browsing habits. Ultimately, this list would be exhaustive, saving consumers from then having to make website-to-website opt-out decisions.
Although, currently, there are many tools available to prevent sites from storing cookies (through plug-ins or browser settings), some sites—mainly Google—continue to log IP addresses which link consumers to their search queries.
Despite this, a lack of privacy has become mainstream and acceptable. Consistently, now, users are making the choice to concede some of their privacy to public domain. A recent study proves this decreasing concern in digital security (only 54% of consumers are concerned with online privacy, versus 65% in 2008). From this changing consumer sentiment, open source intelligence is possible. “Hackers” have begun to compile publicly available information on a large scale. Most notably, a Boston-based start-up has begun an initiative to compile public information in order to predict future events. Predicting crimes that have yet to happen seems like something right out of 1984—and Google and the CIA are both investors in this web-monitoring company.
My conspiracy theories aside, the bottom line is that, counter to intuition, many marketers are actually for the implementation of this protective legislation. They see the Do Not Track list as a concession of some control over to consumers—as well as a catalyst for best practices within the industry. Others however see a risk of hindering online experiences by limiting the way product recommendations and behavioral ads are crafted. Could this devolve internet advertising back a decade or could this be a method for instilling consumer confidence in a commercial Internet?
A Point of View
Recognizing all these factors, I actively choose to give up some of my privacy for convenience. When looking through web history information Google had stored from my account, I can see every product I searched for over the past year, what sponsored links I clicked on, and accompanying trending charts of my activity. Undoubtedly intrusive, but 100% transparent.
The advantages of targeted advertising are apparent (the advert provider knows what I’m looking for and continually improves upon their recommendation), and for me, and a growing number of consumers, this benefit of relevancy outweighs the cost of privacy. Being a relatively digitally savvy consumer, I know that with a few clicks I could make myself mostly untrackable online (and avoid exposure to Internet advertisements altogether) without the intervention of government regulation. However, it cannot be assumed that this is a task that the majority of consumers are capable of. It should be an industry-wide best practice to consider the consumer naivety that still remains and to pursue full disclosure within a digital strategy.
As this dialogue continues, it is important that we remain educated as the Internet morphs into an increasingly intelligent entity. Need a suggestion on where to start? Check out the graphical exposure index the Wall Street Journal recently built which allows you to see how popular sites are actively monitoring their viewers.