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Not Liking This Do-Not-Track Crap

Suppose Google knows that you’re probably into panties, possibly braziers. You go on some red state website to look at a .357 Mag revolver and that website uses Google’s AdSense and its valuable pile of information on consumer spending, demographics and other information. Instead of just seeing an advertisement for .38 Special ammo you’d see had you blocked cookie requests, you’d see a Victoria’s Secret ad. And on that ad you’d then see something titillating but wish you could hold this particular pair in your hand, so you click the ad, jump away from the gun site which you weren’t going to patronize anyway because you live in a state with a less bizarre lack of gun control laws (another thing Google knows), you buy a product and somehow enjoy it.

Along that way, the gun site makes somewhere between, depending on the demand to advertise on the gun website, a nickel or a dollar or more. And Google knows that if seduced effectively you might buy some more panties which to them at least is valuable information. Two business get paid, you get your panties and Google gets it’s well-earned cut in addition to learning your not just a panties window shopper, you occasionally buy. So the gun shop wins, Victoria’s Secret wins, Google wins, people who subsequently do business related to this adventure may win, UPS wins and you win with your new panties. Money changes a bunch of hands. So what the hell is wrong with that?

Apparently something, because the FTC gave a protip to Microsoft, Mozilla and Google which was to offer users of their respective web browsers a way to opt out, like that Do Not Call list, of the cookie monsters that enable ad brokers like Google, to build up a consumer profile of you so that people have a better shot of selling you something you’d enjoy with fewer ad impressions to make that happen. Depending on the way these work they may snuff out browsers from doing certain or all Javascript activities which makes it harder for people who run the website you’re visiting to get their own information on their website’s demographics including information that may help them produce a better site for the visitors and for themselves in terms of revenue. Yes they can do server-side tracking but it has its advantages.

Even though they delete IP addresses after nine months and cookies after eighteen, Google’s feet are to the fire in terms of having more than their share of privacy controversy, but their an ad brokerage and this information is their bread and butter. So perhaps in an effort to create a standard before Microsoft and Mozilla do, Google has produced Keep My Opt-Outs, a Chrome extension for people “who aren’t comfortable with personalization of the ads they see on the web.” Most people you installed Chrome on, you picture them installing extensions like you? Clever, Google.  Mozilla, maybe in an effort to fend off Chrome from eating more of its share, is taking a more ambitious approach with Firefox using a “Do Not Track” HTTP header. Instead of an extension like Google, they have proposed a supplementation to the standard universal command a browser gives to a web server which would indicate whether you checked the privacy box. This is an opportunity for Mozilla, nothing to lose.

Though it would be effective with large cooperating brokerages like Google, such a thing would largely rely on web designers and their server guys to make their site behave differently when fed this command – that the site’s server logs strip out your information for example. Microsoft hasn’t disclosed their approach to this yet, think they’ll just watch what the other guys do and then say hi. Firefox and Chrome’s methods both have their pros and cons for the users but making this unnecessarily easy for consumers… it sucks and I don’t like it. Screw it, why not just encourage everybody download Tor off the front page of Google in order to get ultimate privacy? Because that would be even more stupid and unnecessary – the economy’s bad enough.

This will further weaken websites’ ability to rely on advertising to remain solvent and if people start opting out, and I bet a lot of people enabling such a thing are thinking it will disable ads altogether, the ads they do see will be much less effectively targeted. I’d call this a much greater threat than Adblock’s turned into. Ultimately people buy less stuff and it costs more money to get fewer people to buy that stuff.

Who wins here? The tinfoil hat factory?

Doug Simmons


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