The New York Times reports that officials at the Federal Trade Commission are exploring a “Do Not Track” option on websites and browsers similar to the “Do Not Call” list which prevents unwanted telemarketing calls. Meanwhile, the White House has established an interagency panel to ensure that any restrictions do not impede law enforcement and national security efforts.
A “Do Not Track” feature won’t protect consumers from unwanted ads, only relevant ads they are more likely to find useful. That’s the whole purpose of tracking. Advertisers, who underwrite much of the cost of Internet content, applications and services, will lose an efficient opportunity to connect with potential customers. For what?
Meanwhile, even if there will be no tracking for commercial purposes, there will still have to be full tracking for law enforcement and national security efforts. ISPs and websites will have to continue to track everyone to comply with warrants or subpoenas they may receive in the future. As long as this information is collected and stored, there’s a risk it can be misued. The principal risk isn’t the ISPs or websites themselves. They would suffer reputational damage. The primary threats are from hackers and over-eager investigators.
A more appropriate first step would be for Congress to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to provide the same legal protection for information gathered by ISPs and websites as for the information stored on your PC or in your safe deposit box.