Privacy groups are petitioning the FTC to create a national "Do Not Track" list that would require advertisers to list the servers that track users' behavior with the government. Then, consumers could select companies whose cookies they want to block by installing a browser plug-in.
Advocates point to the national "Do Not Call" list as a model, as the list was unsuccessfully managed by the telemarketing industry and improved once it was taken over by the government. Opponents, including the National Advertising Initiative, say that the proposed list is unnecessary as browsers already have the ability to block cookies. The NAI also claims in a press release that,
"This proposal for a government-run blacklist would break both the basic functionality and economic models of most, if not all, e-commerce and content-driven consumer Web sites."
There are some industry groups and corporations that are trying to take privacy concerns seriously, as AOL is creating a service that will function as a "Do Not track" list through a Web site currently under development. The FTC is also having a two day "town hall" meeting that deasl with online advertising, focusing on the changes since the last such meeting in 2000. In addition, social networking sites are under attack by privacy advocates, because these sites are most popular with young people, who advocates believe are more easily manipulated than adults.
Online Marketers Joining Internet Privacy Efforts (New York Times)
FTC Talks Online Privacy Today (Webpronews)
Privacy groups challenge social networking plans (Mercury News)
As anyone who reads my blog posts already knows, I believe in privacy protections. However, in this case, I have a lot of empathy for the advertisers. They simply want to improve click-through rates by providing ads that are interesting to the users. Consumers definitely need protection from abuse, but I am not sure that the technical challenges are even worth overcoming at this point. The Internet is, at the core, an advertising-based medium like television or radio. What privacy restrictions do you think are appropriate when it comes to online advertising?