Dear internet, stop tracking me


2 Nov 2007

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Each time a web user searches the net or browses through sites they may not be aware that Big Brother is watching: invisible cookies sit in the background and collect information about your surfing habits which in turn can be used by advertisers to target you.

A coalition of privacy and consumer rights groups including the Consumer Federation of America and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have banded together in the US to propose a model to stop this.

Known as the ‘Do Not Track List’, this proposed solution would essentially require marketers and advertisers to report what they use and how they track individual users’ browsing habits.

The list would still allow companies to place ads online, the main difference is that consumers could block servers on that list from tracking their online activities.

“All too few of the developments we’ve witnessed in the internet space have been focused on how to improve the marketplace for consumer privacy,” said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the center for democracy and technology.

“These policy recommendations offer bold new ideas for a path forward.”

The NAI (Network Advertising Initiative), which is a group of online marketing and analytics companies, is in complete disagreement with this proposed change.

“This proposal for a government-run blacklist would break both the basic functionality and economic models of most, if not all, e-commerce and content-driven consumer websites,” it said in an official statement.

The NAI also pointed out that personalisation element which is growing in popularity and is present on many sites would no longer be possible.

“It is disturbing to think that under the proposal the government would step in with a downloaded application that would need to ‘call home’ to the government on a regular basis,” it added.

In the past lobbying for internet privacy advocated has triggered search engines companies such as Google and Ask.com to change how long they store private information on users.

Previously Google were holding these cookies until 2038 but now it is only holding them for 18 months. Ask.com has an option for users to search entirely cookie-free.

By Marie Boran

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