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Description: Signaling a sea change in the debate over Internet privacy, the government’s top consumer protection agency on Wednesday advocated a plan that would let consumers choose whether they want their Internet browsing and buying habits monitored.


Dec 1, 2010

Saying that online companies have failed to protect the privacy of Internet users, the Federal Trade Commission recommended a broad framework for commercial use of Web consumer data, including a simple and universal “do not track” mechanism that would essentially give consumers the type of control they gained over marketers with the national “do not call” registry.

Those measures, if widely used, could directly affect the billions of dollars in business done by online advertising companies and by technology giants like Google that collect highly focused information about consumers that can be used to deliver personalized advertising to them.

While the report is critical of many current industry practices, the commission will probably need the help of Congress to enact some of its recommendations. For now, the trade commission hopes to adopt an approach that it calls “privacy by design,” where companies are required to build protections into their everyday business practices.

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Questions for discussion:

  • Do you feel that allowing consumers to choose if they want their Internet browsing habits monitored is a good idea?
  • What effects would this have on the on the online advertising industry?
  • Is this idea of Internet anonymity better achieved with policy legislation or with technological tools?

16 Responses to “F.T.C. Backs Plan to Honor Privacy of Online Users”

  1. Kaydree Schoenroth

    I don’t think this would be a very good idea. Consumers have gone this long without having this option and I don’t think it will affect them any differently by having this option for them. It would also negatively affect the online advertising industry because they would not be able to target their target markets. Instead of getting ad pop-ups or spam from companies that you may actually be interested in, you would get twice as much from all sorts of companies. In my opinion, monitering consumers internet habits actually benefits the consumers in certain ways.

  2. Paige

    It could be a good idea because those who feel really strongly against having their Internet habits monitored can stop this from happening, although most people might not care. On the other hand, it isn’t affecting people, except for the ones who know that it’s going on. For most of us, we use the Internet daily and don’t think about whether or not someone is watching what we are doing. It would negatively affect advertising companies because they would no longer know what their customers want or are looking at and therefore, could no longer send almost personalized advertising to people anymore. The bulk of advertising would become even greater than it is now and people would get more annoyed of it and block it out even more than many do now.

  3. Ryan Harty

    I believe that this would be a good idea. Although I do not care if their are advertisements on the websites I go to because I do not pay attention to them some poeple may feel that they are pressured into buying things and do not like this. I think the advertising companies would be affected by this but not in a big way. People who want advertisments coming up with choose to let them pop up and people who dont want them coming up, which are the ones who probably do not pay attention to them anyways will choose to block them.

  4. Brett

    I personally would love the option to not have my browsing habits monitored. I am an individual who likes the idea of privacy. I feel like I am in the minority however as many individuals do not seem to care about things like that. I feel like overall if you were to take a utilitarian approach to this problem more customers would not mind having their info stored and the advertising companies would continue to be successful. Taking this tool away from marketing companies not only increases costs for them but also lets you get ads that you are not interested in what so ever. I think that the policies should probably stay constant regardless of how I may feel about it.

  5. Travis VH

    I think that it is a good idea for people who use the internet have the option whether or not to have their internet browsing monitored. People have the right for privacy so they should be able to say if they want their browsing to be tracked and put into information for global advertisers. On the other hand by giving people the option to not be tracked, the advertising industry will be greatly affected. Advertisers would not have access to valuable information they need to know what consumers want. They will lose large profits and not be able to reach their desired amount of consumers.

  6. Tiffaney G

    I agree with having your internet browsing monitored as an option. I really like the idea of picking and choosing what sites can and cannot monitor you. If you online shop a lot, monitoring will help the site to better cater to your needs, but if you are just surfing the net and not really doing anything of importance there really isn’t a need. I recognize that some industries are going to take a huge hit, should this optional monitoring take off, but privacy has become such a huge concern in today’s society. There really isn’t any privacy anywhere.

  7. Dulcie

    If consumers were able to choose how if they wanted their internet browsing habits to be, or not to be monitored I believe most would request they not be monitored. This would definitely have a negative effect on the online advertising industry as it is a heavily relied on way for business and companies to sell, market, and advertise their product. In relating to what the article mentioned ” GOOGLE – relies highly on accessing focused information about consumers that can be used to deliver personalized advertising to them. I think it’s a bit different for companies such as google because for most companies it’s a go to when they are looking for something. I think that pop-up advertising should be enabled and that consumers/internet users should be entitled to having their privacy protected when accessing the internet.

  8. Danielle

    If laws are put into place on this matter it could seriously hurt the advertising that companies have made an opportunity of. The businesses have taken a tool – the internet – and created an opportunity to better the business. First of all they have done nothing wrong and secondly, people know what may happen if they use the internet so if they are not willing to have advertisements pop up or their information shared than they should simply not use the internet. It is like ordering online – some people do not believe that it is safe enough so they simply don’t do it. If you find it to intrusive and the advertisements to annoying then don’t use the internet, no one is forcing you!

  9. justine.kennedy

    The emergence of the internet and the reliance companies have on the internet to facilitate all aspects of their business makes it hard for me to imagine consumers having the ability to basically use companies sites but not allow them to monitor them. Companies use the information from users on their sites for marketing, research, and information that is essential to the company. Allowing users to use their site without being tracked is essentially similar to allowing customers into your store front and letting them take whichever items they want without paying. Some sites, like google, rely heavily on their advertising and a move to a “do not rack” system would hurt them greatly. I am wondering if people are willing to give up the sites they love, again like google, to protect their privacy? It’s something people must consider before adopting this policy.

  10. Claudia R

    As Internet is becoming a fundamental part of our everyday lives, the attention that customers pay to privacy issues is growing. Personally I don’t like the idea that someone knows when and from where I connect to the Web and can track the websites that I visit; in some cases it can also become dangerous.That’s why I think that a policy that allows customers to choose to be tracked or not could be a good idea. A “do not track” feature would for sure damage advertising companies but I think that some more rules in this field cannot do great harm. A first step in protecting clients’ privacy would be to simplify privacy policies that are often long and difficult to understand.

  11. Brittany H

    I do feel that allowing consumers to choose if they want their Internet browsing habits monitored is a good idea. I think that consumers should be allowed to decide whether somebody gets to look and monitor what they buy. I think that this would have negative effects on the online advertising industry, I think if you have a do not monitor option that the advertising may be less effective if it prevents the companies who online advertise from having their ads seen by as many people. I think that this if handled wrong could have a real effect on the companies that make money by their ads like Google if they lose their advertising revenue they won’t make as much money and this might negatively affect them.

  12. Greg

    I believe that it should be up to consumers and a consumer’s rights to choosing whether they wish to have an “enhanced” online experience by allowing their browsing habits to be monitored. Browsing habits are personal information and as such should only be monitored if the “owner” person gives consent to a third party to do so.

    Preventing/regulating company’s to monitor browsing habits on users would be detrimental to the user specific marketing design tools that online advertising companies use. This could also be detrimental to companies who rely on advertisers instead of users for revenue.

    Technology is constantly changing and developing, it would be difficult to achieve internet anonymity due to the increasing capacity and functionality of technology to by-pass any technology tools. Policy legislation would not be effective either, as the costs to investigate and enforcement would be astronomical.

    It is a difficult debate, however, the issues remains that something must and needs to be done one way or the other.

  13. Joana H.

    This is undoubtedly a delicate issue, that couldn’t possibly make a part of the market (consumers) better off without hurting the other part (producers). But the most important question, according to me, is whether the benefits to consumers would be real and would actually exceed the costs to advertisers. Since it seems that every technology, for as highly updated as it might be, it’s not sufficient and that very soon some other geek will find the way to walk around such “push the button” mechanisms. Moreover, although some consumers are aware of such tracking mechanisms, mostly do not, and therefore asking if they would like to be monitored or not could be a kind of shock and discourage them from making further online transactions, which is not good for click companies and neither for the consumer, since it would feel very limited. Therefore, probably a government intervention in this case is desirable and needed, at least in my opinion, since the situation has gone too far and there’s the need of a strong reaction at the beginning. Nevertheless a compromise should be sought, which took into consideration the rights of direct marketing, as well as consumer’s need of privacy and security.

  14. Colin Smylie

    I believe that the ability should be there for those who wish to remain anonymous to be anonymous. That being said though, I also believe that this should come at some sort of cost to these people. Advertising is what makes a lot of the sites that I visit free; and if they are going to track my habits me without my knowing and possibly market something to me that I may enjoy, I say here’s to them. I am quite apathetic to the situation because it works well for me; I get what I want and they get what they want out of it. Now if other people want anonymity, that means that the advertisers will not be making as much money and may leave the website. As previously stated, I like the fact that it is free and without advertising, my favorite websites may not be free anymore. As such I believe that to be given the privilege of not being tracked it should at a cost. This will keep it free for those who do not care about being tracked.

  15. Alyssa Brink

    I’m split on this issue of whether it is good for people to choose whether there internet browsing is monitored or not. In a way, people should have the right to decide whether someone can see what they are doing or not. Some people may see it as invading their privacy. However, for advertising companies it is a great way for them to narrow in on a certain market and be able to see/improve what they are doing. If certain places can monitor what you are doing then they can cater to ones needs more and potentially make it easier for us.

  16. Amy

    While I agree that for privacy issues people should have the option to press a button and not have their browsing information tracked, it doesn’t seem to be harming anyone. As long as privacy regulations are strong enough that they can’t find detailed information (I.e. Name, phone number, address, etc.) Then these companies are just conducting business as usual and gathering information that allows them to tailor their products and services to the consumer is better for society. How else would business know what they need to come up with to make their customers happy. Otherwise they may just find another annoying method to track our every move and discover what things we like and what things we don’t like. If they don’t have a way of doing this then they’ll just be useless junks on the shelves of all these retail stores, and companies won’t provide people to hook up and teach you how to use your new home theatre system that has so many remote controls you never know which buttons to press.

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