Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Internet Browser Do Not Track Lists

Internet usage and consumer privacy - two concepts constantly at odds. Why? Because the higher the level of consumer privacy online the lower the revenue and profit margins for large and small internet companies alike. Data - consumer data - is the currency that drives e-commerce.

Setting aside the world of mobile, which will soon outpace traditional desktop internet browsing, some browsers are bending to consumer and governmental pressure to increase consumer controls over browsing data. While much of this data may not include personally identifiable information (PII), it still reveals much about an individuals online habits.

Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple's Safari browsers all now allow users to click a button telling websites not to track their data. A few ad networks have signed on.

Google and its Chrome browser have not. One big reason is that what constitutes "tracking" is unknown at this time. In other words, there is no piece of legislation or case that provides a legal definition for "tracking". There is not even an industry group standard definition available. Mobile devices are going to further complicate the matter - adding geo-tagging issues to the mix.

Google has a point here. It is perhaps hasty to implement technology to disable "tracking" when what constitutes "tracking" is unknown. I imagine Facebook, which has its own notorious privacy reputation, might behave much like Google. Patience may not only be profitable but also prudent. That is, unless, there is a huge consumer backlash against Google for not following its peers' example. Consumer confidence should not be overlooked as a driver of internet service provider usage. Consumers need to implicitly trust their internet service providers to be responsible data custodians.

CNN recently reported on this issue and some of the technical aspects involved in implementing do not track technology. There is some proposed legislation sitting out there at the federal level. However, even if such legislation is passed, the meaning of any such legislation, its scope and applicability, will take years to define. As an internet business law attorney, I fully expect a slew of consumer internet privacy litigation to take hold in the next five to ten years. Browsing data will most assuredly be at the heart of such lawsuits.

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