FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2011-08-03
Online Advertisers Continue to Track Movements Even After Users Opt Out
Ubiquitous Internet advertising has sparked a new call for privacy over the web. As Internet use has risen over the years, online ads are vital revenue streams for retailers. As such, having targeted advertising campaigns are more important than ever, and ads based on browsing histories are becoming more common. Behavioral advertising is a great concern for consumers who want to avoid targeted ads and who are concerned about businesses (and other entities) having access to their personal information.
Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society have created the Do Not Track standard, a solution that would ostensibly curb behavioral tracking. It is currently used in browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9. By clicking a box in browsing preferences, a user can send a message indicating that he or she does not wish to be tracked. This message is sent to any site the user browses, and the expectation is that Do Not Track will allow users to opt out of online tracking systems.
Unfortunately, it is currently up to individual websites to honor a Do Not Track request, and there is no law in place forcing sites to comply. Because of this, few websites are complying with such requests, and continue to track users’ movements without their knowledge. However, this may change. Several members of the Network Advertising Initiative, a cooperative of online marketing and analytics companies, pledged to stop tracking people who use their service to opt out of targeted advertising campaigns. Also, the Federal Trade Commission has called on Congress to create a law that would enforce Do Not Track requests.
The proposed bill would be the first attempt at classifying an IP address as personal or sensitive information that is worthy of protection. Advertisers and trade groups oppose such a measure because they believe it will hamper business. Revenue from online advertising has increased over the last few years, and they don’t want new laws to prohibit growth. Proponents of Do Not Track legislation believe that it would not affect retailers, as behavioral advertising only constitutes 4 percent of all advertising over the web.
While it remains to be seen whether the bill will actually become law, consumer privacy laws can protect users’ personal information. To learn more about your rights and options, contact an attorney.