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Do Not Track: Why It Is Not The Internet Privacy Solution

do not track internet privacyThe “Do Not Track” Internet privacy movement has become a farce of bread and circuses. On the pro-privacy “do not track” side, you have kooky conspiracies of nefarious syndicates colluding to collect your Web browsing history, mobile app use, and online purchasing information to track you online and offline 24/7.
On the flip side are marketers who wrap themselves in the First Amendment and the flag to claim that any restrictions on tracking, data collection, and data use are both fascist and unpatriotic.
Somewhere in between are government agencies that are attempting to regulate data collection and use with a view of the tech world that’s obsolete by the time proposed regulations are put up for debate. Far from Minority Report pre-crime savants, these civil servants are typically working on assumptions that were valid 5-10 years ago but no longer.
Complicating matters is the fickle Web or mobile app user who claims to oppose “tracking” and supports “privacy.” However, each of these terms means something different to the individual expressing such sentiment.
For some “do not track” means a Luddite Internet that has never existed, one where even aggregate statistics aren’t collected. For others, it’s a matter of keeping personally identifiable information (PII) out of the hands of advertisers, even if that information is provided freely when online purchases are made by the same consumers.
And let’s face it…there’s a little bit of hypocrisy no matter what your public views might be on the issue. For example, the 80-year-old grandmother who uses the Internet to communicate with her family on Facebook might claim to want absolute privacy with zero data collection. Yet she’s going to be far more comfortable being served ads on the social media site for things that interest her than random ads for “dating sexy young women” or Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

On the flip side is the young in-the-closet tech-head who claims there should be no limits on data collection and behavioral targeted advertising but would be mortified if someone in his family looked over his shoulder to see ads on his iPad served based on his gay porn surfing history.
So what’s the solution?
Less Internet privacy laws? More “do not track” regulations?
Answer: Informed Consent
Those who collect data should be required to clearly describe exactly what is being collected and how that data will be used. The Web (or mobile app) user can make an informed choice whether or not to participate or go elsewhere.
To require anything more than informed consent is not feasible in application. Whatever a law or regulation attempts to restrict or ban will quickly be circumvented by means of technology not contemplated by Privacy Puritans looking to brand data collectors with a Scarlet “P.”
What about the children? Really?
There’s movement afoot at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to “protect the children” with burdensome and unworkable rules under the guise of enforcing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998.
Think about that for a moment. New children’s privacy regulations based upon an obsolete law from 1998…a law that was arguably past its prime the day it was passed.
Once again…the solution is informed consent.
In the context of minors, it means informed parental consent. And if a parent can’t be bothered to monitor what his children are viewing online or doing with mobile apps, that shouldn’t be a concern of those who collect data based upon those activities…and that parent loses any rational basis for whining or complaining about data privacy. Nor should the government assume the role of nanny to regulate or punish data collectors for the abdication of parental responsibilities by others.

Mike Young, Esq.

Author Mike Young, Esq.

Mike Young has been practicing business and technology law since 1994 and is an angel investor in startups. He's been an entrepreneur since 1988. To get legal help from Attorney Young, click here now or call 214-546-4247 to schedule a phone consultation.

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