Do Not Track: The pros and cons of being followed

Moderated by Lawrence Dignan | June 11, 2012 -- 07:00 GMT (00:00 PDT)

Summary: Should tracking cookies be turned off by default?

Ed Bott

Ed Bott

Privacy default


Opt out OK

Christopher Dawson

Christopher Dawson

Best Argument: Privacy default

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Privacy should be the default

Ed Bott: If you want to follow me around and record my activities, you have to ask my permission first. Is that so hard to understand?

The American people seem to get it. When the Pew Research Center surveyed Americans earlier this year, they found that 68% of us are not OK with having our online behavior tracked and analyzed. That’s not just a majority, it’s a landslide.
Unfortunately, the online advertising industry doesn’t get it. They’re fighting to preserve their right to silently track everything you and I do online, and they’re winning. They’ve successfully watered down the voluntary Do Not Track standard so it will be practically meaningless when it goes into effect later this year.
Privacy protection shouldn’t be an option. It should be the default. And online advertisers should be required to respect our privacy or face consequences.

Free sites worth a few tracking cookies

Chris Dawson: By default, privacy advocates want browsers to be set to prevent tracking. Advertisers and ad networks, of course, want users, at a minimum, to explicitly opt out of tracking. While the ability to turn off tracking is quite reasonable, a default no-track setting would have devastating effects on the web advertising industry. This is the industry that makes sites like and Weather Underground possible.

Running a website, after all, isn't free. If ad networks go by the wayside, then site owners will be left scrambling for sponsors and building partnerships rather than delivering high-value content. Are the free websites you visit every day worth a few tracking cookies? Because without the tracking functions, ads displayed through the networks won't be targeted. And without the targeting, advertisers will be paying a whole lot less for access to the networks and for far fewer revenue-generating click-throughs.


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  • "devastating effects on the web advertising industry"

    Sorry, but I'm not crying for an industry that's based upon a foundation of tracking people who don't even know they're being tracked.

    I understand the argument that free sites may no longer be able to remain free, but the premise of "assumed consent" just doesn't fly.

    But it doesn't have to be that one or the other. Why does there have to be a default either way? Why can't the browser, upon it's first launch after installation, walk the user through a wizard that informs them of how tracking/targeted advertising works and allow the user to choose whether they want to participate or not? Isn't user education and awareness in the best interest of the user?

    That being said, if it has to be one or the other, the Privacy default is the obvious choice.
    Reply 5 Votes I'm Undecided
    • I agree

      [i]Why does there have to be a default either way?[/i]

      It seems to me, like many government agencies - these companies want to tell you what you want, and make decisions for you. Because of course they know what's best.

      Absolutely the choices should be presented upon first launch with the option to choose either. With an extremely simple way to switch should you change your mind.

      And yes, if it has to be one or the other, Privacy should be the default IMO. Simply because you can't take it back once it's out there.
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
  • TroyMcClure
    Reply 6 Votes I'm for Privacy default
  • re: Lawrence Dignan

    [i]Both sides argued their cases well, but Ed had a better argument.[/i]

    For real? Ed's argument is that 68 percent of respondents to a poll said they don't want to be tracked. That's easy to puncture, because the argument rests entirely on the results of a single question in a single poll.

    The options were:
    I'm NOT OK with it because I don't like having my online behavior tracked and analysed, and
    I'm OK with it because it means I see ads and get information about things I'm really interested in

    Would there have been a landslide if the other response was, "I'm OK with it because it pays for things that I use for free?"

    Like, oh, social networking? Another Pew paper reported 65 percent of online adults use social networking sites. So those 68 percent Ed cited? It looks like their opposition is a little on the soft side. Not much of a case.

    Dawson is right. Without online tracking a lot of sites would go dark. FWIW I definitely would opt out. I do all I can within reason to taint any profile anybody's got on me. In fact, my iPhone thinks I'm a girl.
    none none
    Reply 3 Votes I'm for Opt out OK
  • Questionable whether the Internet would "go dark" without tracking...

    It just means advertisers and the likes of Google would have to adapt to a new "set of rules." It's not like they're saying these sites can't sell ad space, it's saying they can't sliently track you as a means of targeted advertising.

    We're talking about [i]shades[/i] of success here, not success or failure. After all, you can't track/target individuals in traditional media like print, TV, radio, etc., but it's not like ads have disappeared from those formats.
    Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
  • I don't want to be tracked . . .

    Not only do I erase cookies with every close of my browser, don't allow third-party cookies EVER, disable java script unless I need it for a particular site, but I pay for a VPN service.

    Yeah, I'm for privacy being the default.
    Reply 3 Votes I'm for Privacy default
    • Who really cares.

      I don't see what people do online that needs so much protection. If some company thinks they can profit from knowing which celebrity I Google most frequently; all the power to them.

      FWIW; in many countries VPN providers must legally keep server logs detailing your browsing history. You're fixing one problem by introducing another.
      Shane Gowland
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Take a look at people finder websites

        It's amazing how much info can be aggregated from things that are already out there through no doing of your own. Now add your Internet profile, and it's magnified by multiples.
        Reply 3 Votes I'm Undecided
  • "devastating effects on the web advertising industry"

    Repealing slavery had a devastating impact upon the cotton industry, but it was the correct moral and ethical choice, regardless of the financial consequences. Sometimes we just have to take our medicine and eat our peas, as a culture, even if it means some temporary discomfort for some of us.
    Reply 2 Votes I'm for Privacy default