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

Closing Statements

Privacy is a right

Ed Bott

This shouldn’t be confusing. If a web site wants to track you, they need to ask your permission first.

The online tracking industry, like the rest of the Internet, grew by accident. Advertisers and analytics companies have taken advantage of its infrastructure to do things that we would never allow if we were starting over from scratch today.

Giving people control over their privacy rights won’t kill the online advertising industry, as Chris suggests. It won’t put small web sites out of business. And if tracking really will make for “an intelligent web,” why not let us decide?

If you read Chris’s arguments, you’ll see he eventually comes around to a pro-privacy position, acknowledging that we have “the right to understand what data are being collected and where those data go, and how they are used.”

I say we should also have control over that data. It’s ours, after all.

A matter of economic survival

Christopher Dawson

Nobody wakes up one morning and thinks, "Gosh, I should really share some more of my personal data with Google and Facebook."

However, there are many small business owners who wake up, check their Google Adwords dashboards and say, “Yes! 15 new customers!”  On the 10th anniversary of Google Adwords, an article in the Guardian explained, "The overwhelming majority [of Adwords customers] are small and medium-size businesses. AdWords offers a way to grow that ‘wasn't possible to them before – the market was just too inefficient,’ says [Google managing director for UK and Ireland, Matt] Brittin.”

The same goes for the many small sites that survive by subscribing to or advertising via networks that rely on tracking. While Ed Bott suggested that these sites and SMBs simply need a better business model, the reality is that targeted advertising makes a big chunk of the Internet economy go round.


Privacy first

Lawrence Dignan

Both sides argued their cases well, but Ed had a better argument. The big question is whether do not track and privacy will come first. There are a lot of interests lined up in favor of Chris' take. Time will tell, but one thing is certain: This debate will continue for the months and years to come. 


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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