When, on the odd occasion, I write on Internet privacy – especially when I rant on the invasiveness of Tracking Cookies – reader comments are generally supportive. But, not always and, certainly not all readers.
For example – following a recent article – Collusion – Internet Trackers Are All In It Together – a reader wrote the following comment:
Bill, I’m curious to know what you consider to be “insidious” about a tracking cookie and what privacy rights do you think are being violated?
A fair enough question, I think. I’ve reproduced my response below, and while not all of this response is apropos to this current article, I’ve italicized those points that are. You’ll see why in a moment.
When a Tracking Cookie is not obvious to a casual Internet user and, when that cookie often cannot be deleted without the aid of a specialty cleaner, (a Super Cookie for example), then it fits within my definition of “insidious.”
I suggest to you, that if, on those occasions where a Tracking Cookie is installed on a user’s machine, if full disclosure was made as to its usage, an educated user, given an opportunity to reject the placement of such a cookie, might in fact, reject the cookie.
As for my privacy rights? I have the right not to be tracked, not only on the Internet but, as I go about my daily life – by it’s very nature, tracking is a breech of my right to privacy. Most assuredly, I have the right not to be tracked without my express permission. Moreover, I have the right not to be tracked in secret. It’s this behind closed doors nature of Internet tracking, that I find most offensive.
The solution, it seems to me, is fairly simple. If a company wants to track me (and, I fully understand the business need to generate revenue) – then, that company needs to be above board. Anything less than full disclosure, as to the intent and purpose, is unacceptable.
It’s no accident that the privacy issue continues to rage. Nor is it an accident, that politicians have taken up the cause of Internet privacy.
As I wrote in the article – “every business organization has the right to generate income and make a profit”. But, too often, on the Internet, the bullshit baffles brains theory is in full bloom.
Again, in the article, I made the observation that “It’s fair to say, that many users do not object to being tracked.” A true state of affairs, I think, But, I’m not one of those users.
So, my position is – it is not unreasonable to expect that a website I chose to visit should disclose relevant information on Tracking Cookies, resident on the site. A pipedream you might think – but, maybe not.
On a recent first time visit to The Wall Street Journal’s technology blog AllThings D – I was taken aback (blown away really), by the following notice. You can expand the graphic to it’s original by clicking.
A note about tracking cookies: Some of the advertisers and Web analytics firms used on this site may place “tracking cookies” on your computer. We are telling you about them right upfront, and we want you to know how to get rid of these tracking cookies if you like.
This notice is intended to appear only the first time you visit the site on any computer.
So, no pipedream. Disclosure can be done – it should be done. And, kudos to The Wall Street Journal for recognizing its obligation to do so.
Can we expect then, that this form of disclosure will become the new norm on the Internet? I doubt it – fixed attitudes, especially those that routinely generate income, are difficult to reverse.
Your negative views of Tracking Cookies, or mine, are unlikely to have a significant impact. Even so, from my personal perch, I’ll continue to peck away at those sites that abuse my right to privacy.