Online advertisers track your behavior. Google, Facebook, and other services use "targeted ads," or "behaviorial ads," to refine advertisements based on users' Web-surfing habits, and make them more effective and, most importantly, more lucrative. But a new proposal by the Federal Trade Commission aims to curb that.
At a Consumer Watchdog event Wednesday, the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection proposed a new "Do Not Track" tool to curb privacy concerns over behaviorial advertising. The tool would be akin to the "Do Not Call" registry created in the early aughts which enabled the public to block the surging (and annoying) amount of telemarketers, Politico reports. "Do Not Track" would work within browsers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox, but would require an act of Congress to pass.
It's unclear, though, that such a tool would be effective. A senior VP of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) told Politico that "you cannot turn off data sharing online," and that the "consumer experience would be severely diminished" if they lose out on the benefits of tracking third party cookies. Mike Zaneis, senior vice president and general counsel for IAB said in a press release, "The FTC seems to place a great deal of emphasis on consumer click-through rates as a measure for whether self-regulation is working. We believe consumers are best served by a system that makes them aware of online behavioral advertising (OBA) practices, provides real-time enhanced notice, and empowers them to exercise an opt-out mechanism that is easy to use."
But no one is saying how the tool would work. The FTC provided few details, though its incoming chief technologist Edward Felten said the system would, in fact, need to offer a "comprehensive opt-out." The issue is that, unlike the "Do Not Call" registry, which relies on a list of unique telephone numbers, a "Do Not Track" registry could not depend on similar identifiers since IP addresses and other Internet IDs are constantly changing.
Still, those interested in privacy are not completely without hope. Third-party tools such as the recently introduced Firefox plug-in TACO allow consumers to opt-out of tracking programs. Even Google offers an Ads Preferences Manager, enabling users to adjust their privacy settings.
Without an all-inclusive system, however, behaviorial ads will continue to track your behavior. But, hey, at least they won't call you at dinnertime.
[Photo by Brian Moore]