Earlier today, Jim Harper raised some valid concerns about the new “Do Not Track List” that some groups are proposing be mandated by the FTC. I’d like to point out another concern with this concept. A mandatory “Do Not Track” registry creates a potentially dangerous precedent / framework for a nationwide mandatory registry of URLs of websites that some policymakers might deem objectionable in other ways beyond just spam. When I first read these two provisions on page 4 of the Do Not Track proposal, I could not help but think of how a savvy Net-censor might use them in an attempt to regulate Internet content in other ways:
“Any advertising entity that sets a persistent identifier on a user device should be required to provide to the FTC the domain names of the servers or other devices used to place the identifier.”
“Companies providing web, video, and other forms of browser applications should provide functionality (i.e., a browser feature, plugin, or extension) that allows users to import or otherwise use the Do Not Track List of domain names, keep the list up-to-date, and block domains on the list from tracking their Internet activity.”
I can easily imagine would-be Net censors using that language as a blueprint to regulate other types of online speech. For example, it could be rewritten as follows [with my additions in brackets]:
“Companies providing web, video, and other forms of browser applications should provide functionality (i.e., a browser feature, plugin, or extension) that allows users to import or otherwise use the [government-approved ] list of domain names, keep the list up-to-date, and block domains on the list [that are harmful to minors].”
Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but because would-be Net censors have struck out on other regulatory fronts over the past 10 years, they are looking for a new framework. A mandatory Do Not Track List might give them an opening.