Identity Theft

FTC “Do Not Track” Proposal: Q&A With A Privacy Advocate

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Earlier this month the Federal Trade Commission formally announced a new world order that would provide more privacy options for Internet users.

The cornerstone of that proposal is a universal “Do Not Track” mechanism that would allow web consumers to block access to online marketers. The proposal is viewed by privacy groups as similar to the FTC’s 2004’s “Do Not Call” registry, which gave consumers the option to block unwanted telemarketing calls to their homes.

This week, I had the opportunity to sit down with my colleague Eduard Goodman, Chief Privacy Officer at Identity Theft 911, to discuss the impact, pro and con, from the proposed “Do Not Track” list.

So, what’s the concept here?

Conceptually, it is very similar to the “Do Not Call” list. Consumers could be given the option to not have their online behavior tracked for marketing purposes. If it goes through, “Do Not Track” would likely block things like banner ads, pop-up ads – basically any online advertising mechanism that could track your browsing behavior and use it for marketing purposes. Limiting cookies, “history sniffing” programs and the like. It might also lead to consumers blocking ads on social networking applications like Facebook.

What about the practical side?

The key question from a practical point of view is this: how do you accomplish a “Do Not Track” program? With the “Do Not Phone” list, it was pretty cut and dried – consumers simply registered their phone numbers on a list. But on the Internet, all bets are off. How will you block online marketers? By IP addresses? That doesn’t seem very practical.

What does the FTC have to say about the “implementation” issue?

Right now, the FTC is suggesting, for lack of a better word, a browser “plug in” on big Internet modules like Firefox, Safari or Explorer. Under that implementation, individual users would set the rules, allowing them to shape what they want and to whom they want to talk online. I don’t think the FTC views it as an “all or nothing” proposition – it just wants to give more privacy options to web consumers. But that said, it’s surprising that the FTC has been working at this policy for at least a year, yet there’s still a real lack of clarity.

What are the big guys saying about the proposal?

There are still comments coming in, but in one of the roundtables I checked into, a Google executive made a valid point. He said that, in all of the studies he’d seen, there already were mechanisms in place that enabled consumers to customize their online advertising experiences. That’s actually true. On Firefox, for instance, there’s a simple “two-click” process to clear your privacy settings. It’s very easily accomplished. There have been plenty of good comments looking to the FTC to clarify what they’re doing.

What’s driving the “Do Not Track” initiative?

The FTC, mostly. It’s ironic, but consumers are largely unaware that all of this “Do Not Track” chatter is going on. It’s the FTC that’s saying “we want transparency” and “we want choice.” They’re telling the big online marketers, “ You need to start living in a fishbowl and show us what you’re doing.” That’s a big point. Nobody, even the U.S. government, knows exactly who is tracking online consumers and how they’re doing it. But that makes the FTC’s case even stronger in its mind – it goes against the core privacy principles that the FTC lives by – consent and choice. But you have to give the FTC its due – they’ve been following this issue on the enforcement side for a decade now and do know what’s going on.

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  • Pingback: Track Me Not – MIT Technology Review | newzbuff.com

  • http://www.focusonrecovery.net 2012 Consciousness Shift Resources (is a link)

    It occurred to this observer that those who have governed planet earth for the last 309,000 yrs (as we measure the illusion of time) have no cause to prevent identity theft.

    It appears the powers-that-be actually desire to have our individual securities breached in order to demonstrate cause for the implication of such measures as RFID or energy wave signature recognition (each fragment of the whole “individual person” has its own unique energy signature) in order to complete the final creation of a one world uniformed system of monetary, habit and movement control, possibly going as far as 100% thought control of the mass mind via HAARP.

    There is much more to the NWO story than most are willing to consider.

  • http://www.democraticmedia.org Jeff Chester, Washington, DC

    The FTC and Congress–inc. both parties–are responding to the growing concern by the public over online marketing, consumer protection and privacy. Online marketers built–and are expanding–a business model where information and the activities of an individual are tracked, profiled, and sold to the highest bidder. There is no transparency or any real control. Polls show the public is very concerned about this issue. The FTC has listened to the country’s leading consumer advocates and privacy groups–this column should pay more attention to the record on these issues. Do Not Track is just one of a series of proposals made by the FTC designed to put consumers in control of their data and financial transactions online.

  • Mateo Zachai

    Dear Mr. Levin,

    I have recently posted the article on my Facebook site about the criminal high rates of these credit card offers. From watching your interview on ABC I got the impression that you supported these cards being distributed by First Premier Bank. I think it is disgusting and I have no idea how people who promote in ANY way these practices are able to sleep at night. The idea of preying (yes that is what it is doing) on poor people or people with terrible credit and then rationalizing it as I heard you do that it is giving people the opportunity to build up their bad credit is insane and a great rationalization for greed and extreme profit. If you have bad credit and you are spending with a card like this that has such an extreme high rate…how on earth do you expect to have good credit if you are only paying your interest payments (if you can even keep up).

    I pray that you and others (First Prem will consider what it is you are doing and find a way to genuinely help those who have bad credit in a way that is constructive and not destructive. I do believe that each of us has a responsibility to help out those who are less fortunate in this world and you obviously have an amazing education and gift for understanding commerce…

    Thank you in advance,

    Mateo Zapata Zachai

  • http://ccomwp.wpengine.com/ Adam Levin

    Thanks for your comment, Mateo. I can understand why you got the impression that I’d supported these cards. This was due to a bit of careless writing by our good friends at ABC. The way they led into my quote made it sound as though I was a proponent of these cards. That’s not the case. The point I made, and what I continue to believe, is that credit and our credit histories, are a fact of life and we must diligently manage them. Access to credit can be a very good thing, when managed responsibly, because it can help people to build a better record, which will in turn provide them access to more credit (mortgages, car loans, etc) and lower rates. But, as we all know, it’s a double edged sword. When people don’t manage their credit responsibly, the results can be devastating as you well know. At Credit.com, we do our best every day to make sure that people are equipped to make good choices about credit. Thanks again for reading…

  • Pingback: Facebook Changes Warrant Fed Probe, Privacy Experts Say - Identity Theft 911 Blog

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