Opting-in to Online Tracking

Three leading ISPs, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Verizon have announced that they will institute a policy of permission-based web tracking, following Google’s push for more transparency on the Web.

The announcement had been prompted by various consumer groups’ questioning of “deep packet inspection” of Web traffic and statistics. Soon people will be prompted to opt-in to provide ISPs with access to data about their web behaviors and surfing patterns for the purpose of delivering more tailored, targeted ads. I, for one, do not see the problem of letting ISPs track my web patterns in order to create more effective web ads.  In fact, I’ll pretty much do anything to not have to watch an ironically headache-inducing 15 second spot for Excedrin play 15 times as I’m watching an episode of Heroes online. The ad is too short for me to get up out of my swivel chair and break free from the chains, and so I’m forced to watch it as I lament lugubriously that watching a show online is actually becoming lamer than watching it on the antiquated T.V.

Speaking of headache-inducing, I feel as if the new opt-in policy is just going to tick off people in much the same way that Excedrin spot does. It will simply be another obstacle standing between you and the web info you’re trying to access.

So really, opting-in isn’t a great stride as far as giving consumers what they want. People really only care when they feel constrained, which is why the ability to opt-out is much more important. So the answer is simple, right?  Give them the ability to opt-out. What do the experts have to say?

“Opt-out mechanisms for online advertising are often buried in fine print, difficult to understand, hard to execute, and technically inadequate,” says a statement from the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Well, that explains why legislation on this subject is still being discussed in a House subcommittee, as is virtually everything these days. Perhaps for some piece of mind, we can all opt to accept the government’s deep probing into our web neuroses for the sake of the House and Senate dealing with the current economic meltdown.

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