Saturday, March 17, 2012

Is "Do not track" legislation a good idea?

Originally posted 05/09/2011 on lubbockonline.com

Cecilia Kang reports on SFGate.com that more senators are jumping on the "Do not Track" legislation band wagon. In general this is a good thing. Companies should not be able to follow your travels across the web, store the data and analyze it until they know your likes and dislikes better than you do. People need to be given control of their own data, and legislation is one way to do it.

But is it the best way? Good intentions (late as they are) aside, rushing a bill through to protect consumers could be as bad as doing nothing. Maybe worse. Suddenly requiring companies to stop tracking and/or destroy the tracking data they've gathered would put many companies out of business - online anyway. So much of the free web we enjoy is paid for by the data gathered by tracking that removing that revenue cold turkey would hit the web like an earthquake.

Web browsers are starting to have "do not track" features built in. Allowing users the choice on whether or not to be tracked is a good thing, and would have a more gradual impact on web businesses. I wonder how many congressmen really understand how integral to the web experience we all know and love tracking is? It pays for many of our favorite websites (Facebook, anyone?). Take it away without granting time to find a new revenue model and they will have to charge. Steve DelBianco, executive director of Netchoice has a plan for bringing that point home to one Senator. I think he should implement it for all of them:

"I've asked for a waiver of Senate ethics rules so I can give Sen. Rockefeller a gift he really needs - an iPad. The senator can see for himself how interest tracking lets advertisers pay for all those free apps and Web services that regular Americans love to use."

How many of the sites you have a free account with would you be willing to pay for? How will they make money without tracking or making members pay? Those are the real questions. And until someone has a good answer, blanket "do not track" legislation is a bad idea.