Declan on “Do Not Track List” idea

by on November 2, 2007 · 4 comments

Our old friend Declan McCullagh, the dean of high-tech policy journalists, has just posted an excellent column outlining his concerns with the “Do Not Track List” notion that Harper and I blasted yesterday. As usual, Declan says it better than any of us can regarding why this is such a silly and dangerous regulatory proposal:

Nobody’s holding a gun to Internet users’ heads and forcing them to visit Amazon or Yahoo. They do it because they trust those companies to take reasonable steps to protect their privacy. To insist that the feds must step in because a few vocal lobbyists and activists don’t like those steps should be insulting to Americans: it suggests that they’re too simpleminded to make their own decisions about what’s best for them and their families. (It’s similar in principle to price regulation, when special-interest lobbyists insist that prices are too high or too low and must be altered by legislative fiat.)

What makes this an even sillier debate is that there already are a wealth of ways to accomplish “Do Not Track” without the feds. This is the third principle of Internet regulation: If technology exists to solve a perceived problem, it’s probably better to encourage its use rather than ask federal agencies for more regulations or demand that the techno half-wits in Congress draft a new law.

Amen, brother. He continues:

If you don’t want 24/7 Real Media or Doubleclick to be able to identify when you visit one Web site and then another, it takes only a few seconds to block their cookies. Firefox offers an excellent way to refuse cookies from individual sites. The Adblock Plus plug-in even lets you avoid ads. AOL now lets you opt out of “tracking cookies” and the Network Advertising Initiative has long allowed users to opt-out of targeted advertising from companies including 24/7 and DoubleClick.

If the lobbyists and activists behind the “Do Not Track” list–including the Consumer Federation of America, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the World Privacy Forum–want to create a browser plug-in that tracks advertising-related servers and automatically blocks them, they should. They don’t need to beg the FTC or Congress to do it for them. And it would likely be far faster (and the outcome better) than asking Sen. Stevens and the rest of official Washington to regulate companies doing business on the Internet.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Personally, I don’t care much if I am “tracked”, so by implication, no need for regulation.

    However, just so that I am not accused of breaking character, there are two “big-picture” points that should be made.

    1. Corporations do NOT do a reasonable job of protecting a customers data. Virtually every corporate privacy notice states (after you take out the fluff): “We will protect your privacy by selling your personal information to anyone who pays.”

    2. I would advocate a regulation that would prohibit automatic customer “opt-in” by corporations and the sale/rental/sharing of customer information by corporations.

  • http://www2.blogger.com/profile/14380731108416527657 Steve R.

    Personally, I don’t care much if I am “tracked”, so by implication, no need for regulation.

    However, just so that I am not accused of breaking character, there are two “big-picture” points that should be made.

    1. Corporations do NOT do a reasonable job of protecting a customers data. Virtually every corporate privacy notice states (after you take out the fluff): “We will protect your privacy by selling your personal information to anyone who pays.”

    2. I would advocate a regulation that would prohibit automatic customer “opt-in” by corporations and the sale/rental/sharing of customer information by corporations.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Feel free to break character, Steve R! While I think 1) is true – privacy policies aren’t very protective – I think 2.) is akin to advocating regulation that would cause water to flow upstream.

    There is a substantial and growing information economy that we’re all a part of and that we all benefit from. In the online environment, at least, the small minority that wants to drop out can use the technologies Declan describes to do so.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Feel free to break character, Steve R! While I think 1) is true – privacy policies aren’t very protective – I think 2.) is akin to advocating regulation that would cause water to flow upstream.

    There is a substantial and growing information economy that we’re all a part of and that we all benefit from. In the online environment, at least, the small minority that wants to drop out can use the technologies Declan describes to do so.

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