Yahoo Provides Do Not Track Tool for Browser Privacy
On Thursday, March 29 Yahoo! announced the imminent release of a new tool to promote privacy during web browsing. The company’s “Do not track” tool will be available this summer, and while few details have been released about its functionality, Yahoo spokespeople are pushing the line that “Yahoo! continues its leadership in privacy innovation while continuing to create the free online services consumers demand that are made possible through advertising.”
How Yahoo!’s New User-Controlled Advertising System Will Work
As far as I can tell from the literature published thus far, the new Yahoo! Do Not Track tool allows users to pick which ads they want to see across websites. The system runs on two Yahoo!-owned advertising systems – Interclick and Right Media.
The ability to control what ads users will see during web browsing means advertisers are more likely to draw customers who would have wanted to see their product in the first place, and it makes the browsing experience itself more enjoyable for the user.
The Do Not Track Browser Wars
Yahoo! is the latest search engine to implement a “do not track” mechanism – and most of the search engines are making a lot of PR noise when they do. Why? Because if the company’s take it upon themselves to institute tracking measures, the less likely it is that the FTC or federal government will pass a universal “Do Not Track” bill – a piece of regulation the major tech companies are adamantly against.
At this point, there’s not much to say about Yahoo!’s foray into Do Not Track, we’ll just have to wait until summer rolls around when the search engine company fully implements the system into standard use.
Millions of websites track the comings and goings of every single user; it’s called behavioral targeting and its big business. Some companies are only concerned with activity on their own websites, while others have implemented complex behavioral tracking systems to follow and record your every Internet move. Collected information is analyzed and corporations use the data to serve up highly relevant advertisements based on personal browsing history.
But privacy advocates feel behavioral targeting has gone too far and want legislators to pass a federally enforceable “do not track” law similar to the successful “do not call” law.
Both sides of the aisle are in favor of a universal bill; though Democrats and Republicans have differing opinions on how to do it. Despite ideological differences, however, Sens. John Kerry and John McCain worked out a compromise and are co-sponsoring a bipartisan “online bill of rights”.
How Online Tracking Works and Why Folks are Concerned
Cookies and similar methods are used to follow individuals around the Web. Some operations only keep track of what individuals do on their site, while others have far-reaching systems to track everything users do online.
Data collected is sent to a party that can analyze the information. Some firms have in-house departments and others use 3rd party data firms. Many of These information miners are able to cull personally identifiable data. this fact is the primary cause of concern for both the government and privacy advocates.
Do Not Track: The Proponents’ Argument
Advocating for a bill similar to the do-not-call law, do-not-track proponents want legislation that allows individuals to opt-out of behavioral Internet tracking programs. They argue privacy is a fundamental American right and caution that if we don’t pass comprehensive online privacy legislation soon, the nation could wind up facing serious online privacy invasion problems in the future.
Do Not Track: The Opponents’ Argument
Opponents to do not track laws are working hard to make sure a universal law isn’t passed. The cost of implementing necessary controls is their main cause of concern. Unnecessary barriers to entry, they claim, will be created if a universal privacy law is passed.
Basically, anti-privacy law advocates think such a law is a threat to capitalism.
Do Not Track: Privacy by Design
Another popular voice in the ongoing online privacy debate is the “privacy by design” argument. Popular browsers such as Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer are in various stages of incorporating do-not-track functionality into their products, thereby giving users the option to be tracked or not. Many feel “privacy by design” is the best way to go since it puts the choice squarely in the hands of users, thus eliminating the need for yet another federal law.
IT professionals, however, warn that do-not-track browser technology is easily bi-passable and probably wouldn’t do much in the way of actually keeping data private.
Sens. McCain and Kerry Teaming up for Privacy
Sen. McCain is, once again, eschewing the “small government or bust” faction of the Republican Party by co-sponsoring an online privacy bill of rights with Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. John Kerry.
The bipartisan bill calls for several universal online privacy standards. In addition, it provides provisions for companies willing to go through an intense and costly security certification program in order to be exempt from the law.
Contact An Online Privacy Law Attorney
Do not track is not the only Internet privacy legal issue. If you run an online business, it’s important to be in compliance with current online privacy laws that apply to certain markets like finance, health, e-commerce and children’s websites.
E-commerce and Personalization
These days, a personalized Web experience is the norm. Websites remember us by name, shopping carts keep things in them, and targeted marketing is served up daily. How does “the Internet” know what targeted ads to serve? Via cookies that track your online click-stream behavior. These behavioral data points are analyzed and used to push targeted products towards you.
Online Privacy, Cookies and Surveillance Technologies
Personalized content is made possible by “cookies” – also called “marketing cookies,” “web cookies,” “browser cookies,” or “HTTP cookies.” They’re tiny text files that websites embed in your browser. The browser sends the text file back to the website’s server each time you access the site.
Cookies have a wide variety of uses. They can contain user-id and password information for authentication, they can identify the actions, proclivities, and habits of site users as preferences, and they can save shopping cart contents.
Cookies are not the only surveillance technology being used to monitor online consumer behavior. Another tool called “Web beacons” are embedded in pages as tiny images. Each time the page is accessed by a user, a request is sent to the server. Web beacons are sophisticated and can track at a very detailed level.
“Do Not Track” Registry
In 2007, nine nonprofits submitted a proposal to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposing the creation of a “Do Not Track” registry modeled after the popular “Do Not Call” list.
In recent months, the idea of a “Do Not Track” registry has begun generating traction once again. In July 2010, FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz told a Senate panel that the agency was actively exploring ways to implement the registry. Meanwhile,the Boucher-Sterns bill — another business-focused data collection and storage law proposal — has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.
Why the Boucher-Sterns Bill and the “Do Not Track” Registry Are Bad Ideas for Businesses
If you operate a business with an Internet component, both the Boucher-Sterns bill and the “Do Not Track” registry may represent major challenges. Consult with an Internet lawyer to learn more about how these policies may impact your company.
]May 2014 Update: The Boucher-Sterns online privacy bill died a quick death. It never got off the ground.]
Users Already Have Access To Privacy Tools
The expense involved in implementing the “Do Not Track” registry and provisions of the Boucher-Sterns bill would be enormous – and unnecessary given the fact that users already
have access to privacy protections via browsers.
[May 2014 Update: We crossed out that last part because it’s not true anymore. Yahoo! recently announced its intention to ignore “Do Not Track” signals from users. Expect others to follow.]
The most recent versions of all major browsers allow users to decide if and for how long a cookie will be accepted. Additionally, the most recent versions of Firefox’s and Google’s Chrome browser contain plugins that allow users to opt out of other tracking technologies.
Speak With An Online Privacy Lawyer
Do you have an online privacy issue related to your online business? If yes, contact Kelly / Warner Law today. We represent many online businesses with a host of legal issues related to doing business on the Internet — including, but not limited to, online privacy, copyright, defamation, unfair competition and FTC compliance. Our firm and founding partners are highly rated attorneys who know the niche exceptionally well. Get in touch today to begin the conversation.