What a victory for privacy and personal responsibility is Chris Soghoian’s Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (or “TACO” – documented and downloadable here). It signals to the 27 ad networks with well-configured opt-out cookies that you don’t want them to track you.
It’s a technical solution that empowers (and places responsibility with) the user to exercise dominion over his or her personal information. No need for law and regulation. No need to go pleading to politicians and bureaucrats for help.
It’s also a little more efficient than my method of controlling tracking, which is to take a glance at cookies as Web sites ask to set them on my computer.
(The answer is usually “no,” but it’s very interesting to see who all wants to get a glance at me when I visit any site. It’s a lot more than just ad networks, btw. I have no idea why people think ad-network tracking is bad and tracking by others is a matter of indifference.)
Now, Chris and I always find something to disagree about, so for good measure I’ll note that I disagree with his goal of switching targeted advertising from opt-out to opt-in.
Cookies are the wrong mechanism for universal opt-out, he correctly notes, and an opt-out HTTP header, were one adopted, would be switched on by default, so the big players won’t go there. “The only way we will get an easy to use, built-into the browser solution,” he concludes, “will be if government regulators get involved. FTC staffers — are you listening?”
Actually, an easy to use, built-into-the-browser solution is right there. In Firefox, it’s Tools > Options > Privacy > uncheck “Accept cookies from sites” or “Accept third-party cookies” (or further define what you want done with cookies). In Internet Explorer, it’s Tools > Internet Options > Privacy > Advanced > select “Override automatic cookie handling” and define what you want done.
A lot of folks think it’s jaw-droppingly difficult to look at cookies as they’re offered. It’s not. It’s easy to give cookies a quick skim as they come in. (Sometimes exercising responsibility for yourself is difficult. Walk it off.)
Now, should everyone do as I do? No. Should everyone do a Chris wants (and be untracked unless they request it)? Also, no.
The default on the street and on the Internet is for information to be available to others. If you don’t like it, you cover up your nakedness with clothes, or you figure out how to block cookies offered by sites you don’t want a relationship with. Kudos to Chris for giving people a cloak to wear, even though he advocates that regulators should tut-tut Web site operators for using their eyes to see.