NEWS6 December 2010

IAB says ‘do not track’ is a misnomer online

Government North America

US— The creation of a workable ‘do not track’ system would require a “re-engineering [of] the internet’s architecture”, warned the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in response to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposals published last week.

The FTC says it wants to help consumers control what information is collected about them and allow them to opt out of having their online activity monitored for ad targeting purposes, but the IAB says ‘do not track’ is a misnomer.

“The internet is comprised of millions of interconnected websites, networks and computers – a literal ecosystem, all built upon the flow of different types of data,” the bureau said. “You cannot turn off data sharing online and, if you could, consumers would encounter a severely diminished experience.”

Data sharing enables people to “customise news sites, optimise web services such as social networks, receive relevant content and advertising across the web, and much more”, the IAB said. “Policy makers should not promise a ‘consumer protection programme’ they cannot deliver without disenfranchising the American public,” it added.

The ‘do not track’ idea was debated at a House subcommittee hearing last week, chaired by Congressman Bobby Rush, who has previously drafted his own data privacy bill.

Giving evidence at the hearing, Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), said that: “No matter what one thinks about the benefits and risks of online tracking – and there are many differing views on the subject – the fact is that individuals have a basic right to privacy and this right must be respected.”

Groups such as the CFA are concerned about the risks to privacy created by ad targeting companies who track browsing habits and build up profiles about web users in order to better market to them.

Daniel Castro, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, accepted that consumers should be able to avoid targeted advertising if they want, but only by avoiding sites that display this type of advertising and by using existing tools to manage their online privacy.

He objected to the idea of a ‘do not track’ system as inherently unfair to content providers who rely on ad revenue to fund their work. “When consumers go online, in the vast majority of cases they are receiving some free content or service (e.g., email, search, data storage, social networking, news, information, entertainment, etc). And the way they ‘pay’ for these free services is by agreeing to be shown advertisements,” Castro said.

“To cover the cost of all of these services companies increasingly need to show ads that are actually of interest to consumers. By opting out of this mutually beneficial relationship, some consumers are trying to get something for nothing.”