Privacy in the digital age

Original cartoon by the US gov’t. Hat tip to Andy Baio.

Privacy, a need constantly demanded  by movie stars and other celebrities, has taken on a new meaning for the common man, who spends a large part of his/her day online. But do we really care about our online footprint or is this brouhaha just being generated to control the growing power of the internet and the media?

The government on its part is trying to be our knight in shining armor, passing along the ‘Do not Track Bill’ – providing consumers with the option to opt out of being tracked.  I think providing options is always a great, its important to have the choice. But on the flip side there are reasons why a bill such as Do not track impedes the growth of the internet. John Battelle in his book The Search, makes a great point that Clickstream data allows companies to identify what you are interested in and helps provides a better experience on the internet.

We all spend a large part of our days surfing the net, posting details of our day-to-day life on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, post pictures (often without privacy settings), check-in using Foursquare, so how concerned are we really with privacy. According to privacy expert Larry Ponemon most U.S. adults — 60 percent —claim they care about privacy but will barely lift a finger in an effort to preserve it. They don’t alter Facebook privacy settings, they don’t complain when supermarkets demand their phone numbers and they certainly don’t insist on encrypted e-mail. I was shocked to read about Gary LosHuerto experience of hacking and informing people they were on an unsecured network and those individuals did nothing to alter their behavior.

Statistics thus far show that the opt-out rate has received relatively low response. The click-through rate is just 0.002% and of those people who do follow the link, only 10% opt out of the ads, according to DoubleVerify, which recently won a contract from the industry trade group to license the icon for ad clients. Two other companies, Evidon and TRUSTe, also provide the service. Evidon, which has the longest set of data, is seeing click-through of 0.005% with only 2% opting out from 30 billion impressions. At this point, advertisers’ fears consumers would opt out of behavioral targeted advertising appears to be slightly overblown.

So how do you feel about the issue? Are you concerned that some company is going through your private information or are you just taking a wait and watch approach?

2 thoughts on “Privacy in the digital age

  1. As long as a company is using this tracked information for providing a superior web experience for the end user, I don’t really care about breach of privacy. Hacking into my system and stealing confidential data a’la passwords, now thats a different story. This business of tracking has been going on for long and the first name that comes into my mind when I think about it is Google, yet people don’t shy away from their services. Passing a do-not-track bill is a bit over the top if you ask me.

    You cannot deny a company from trying to improve upon user experience, as far as options go there are ways of circumventing tracking without going all legal about it, a prime example would be Mozillas’s introduction of a do-not-track option in Firefox 5 among others. While a user intervened feedback would be more appropriate for privacy’s sake, it would become tedious and a lot of technical statistics might have to skipped as long as user friendliness is a concern.

    Albeit I feel a user must be aware and made aware of as to what information about him/her is going to get tracked. The whole with the app hack debacle that was making rounds on facebook makes me think not a lot of people aren’t concerned with privacy. Alas! the internet ain’t filled with do-gooders.

    ‘Ignorance is bliss’ might just bite you in the butt without warning, and boy does it do it bad or what!. The entire tracking affair should be made aware to the user, which I feel will also better the user-developer/company relationship.

    If they are gonna pass a bill it should be about sticking to any kinda EULA and not going about abusing it behind the user’s back.

    • Hello Saurav – thanks for your comment. I think you have an interesting point of view. In my opinion, the more people know about how they are being tracked (i.e. cookies) the more they worry they are being watched by big brother. Yes some of do feel that advertising on the internet and tracking is part and parcel of the use of the web, and yes tracking my behaviour and actions helps provide me a more relevant advertising, most people dont see it that way. In the long run, as more people learn of the issue and browsers start integrating the technology, I do think it will negatively impact the digital industry. So yes I am all for education and options (how a user wants to be tracked).

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