Do Not Track Back in Front of Senate
Do Not Track (DNT) was being reviewed by a Senate panel again as of June 27, 2012. DNT has become of great concern to Internet privacy advocates. It essentially allows Internet users to send a signal from their browser that tells website that they do not want their information used to track them as they go to other sites. It’s become controversial because, predictably, industry groups that endorse self regulation have been trying to find ways to work around the system and share information with third parties.
DNT is controlled by setting an option on your browser. By default, the latest version of Internet Explorer will come with DNT turned on, giving some indication as to how popular this option is with users.
There is no universal standard for DNT. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), this has created a situation where companies with an interest in harvesting user data and sharing it with third parties are trying to water down DNT into a system that gives Internet users a false sense of security but that does little to protect their privacy. The organization quotes a Pew poll that showed that the majority of Internet users are not at all comfortable with the idea of being tracked.
The industry group representing companies that have interests in consumer data is the Digital Advertising Alliance. The group released a set of “principles” including the use of an opt-out page. In a separate report, the EFF noted that researchers at Carnegie Melon University found that most users had trouble even using the opt-out page.
The DAA also endorsed the use of an icon that lets users know when their data is being tracked, but that does nothing to stop it from being tracked. The EFF called the DAA’s principles toothless.
What Can Consumers Do?
Using the Internet does, to some degree, usually entail a bit of information being harvested from you and used by agencies that are outside of your control. Most people’s browsers are full of cookies that they likely had no idea were there. It’s very difficult to surf the Internet with any real degree of privacy these days.
VPNs provide one privacy-enhancing tool that consumers can use. They conceal your real IP address, which makes it much more difficult to track you. Browser security settings are still important, however, and users who are particularly interested in safeguarding their privacy from marketers may want to consider using the anonymous browsing modes on their browser in addition to using a VPN.