Do Not Track? What’s “Tracking” Exactly, Anway?

Here’s an interesting New York Times Blog that talks about the latest on the “do not track” front. The question on the table is whether and to what extent advertisers can or should collect and use data about consumers’ Web browsing habits.

To advertisers, data on browsing habits is gold. They can target digital advertisements based on the interests a consumer reveals while Web surfing. But many consumers consider the practice, uh, creepy. And a major fear for the advertising industry is the prospect of government regulation of the practice.

That explains in part why the Digital Advertising Alliance is attempting to develop self-regulatory guidelines. But those efforts haven’t pleased everyone. The World Wide Web Consortium has rejected a recent proposal by the DAA. That proposal would prohibit ad networks from retaining the URLs of the sites a user visited, but permitting the categorization or scoring of users based on their browsing activities, but it would allow those networks to categorize and score users based on their browsing habits.

There seems to be a very basic fight over what actually counts as tracking. From the DAA’s perspective, as long as consumers can opt out of direct targeted advertising, they aren’t being tracked.

Privacy advocates, on the other hand, consider the very collection of the data to be tracking. And they have a point. The best way (maybe the only way) to ensure that private data doesn’t wind up in the wrong hands is to not collect in the first place. But on the other hand (I now have three hands if you’re counting) it’s tough to expect the industry to give up that information without a fight.

If you want more information, check out this outline from the Electronic Privacy Information Center.