Ad Biz Claims It Must Disregard User Privacy Choices to Safeguard ‘Cybersecurity’
At a hearing yesterday, the Senate Commerce Committee took up the issue of online tracking, the browser-based Do Not Track flag, and, in an unlikely turn of events, cybersecurity. The hearing included testimony from Ohio State University Law School’s Prof. Peter Swire, Mozilla’s Alex Fowler, the Association of National Advertisers’ Bob Liodice, and TechFreedom’s Berin Szoka. While there were a number of heated moments in the hearing, the most surprising was the advertising industry’s claim that respecting consumer choice will harm “cybersecurity.” This new argument from the advertising industry only raises more concerns for the civil liberties implications of online tracking and was, as Rockefeller aptly noted, little more than a “red herring.”
Quick Recap: What’s Do Not Track and What’s at Stake
Do Not Track is a signal that users can set in their browsers to tell websites they don’t want their online web browsing tracked by companies with whom they have no relationship. Momentum for Do Not Track has been building over several years, inspired in part by high-profile privacy scandals as well as a comprehensive expose series by the Wall Street Journal showing that the nation’s 50 top websites on average installed 64 pieces of tracking technology onto the computers of visitors, usually with no warning. Do Not Track has been endorsed by the FTC and is the cornerstone of legislation proposed by Senator Rockefeller.
The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), an advertising industry consortium, has adopted principles for online data collection that fall far short of Do Not Track. According to Prof. Swire’s written testimony, the exceptions in the 2011 DAA principles “are so open-ended that I have not been able to discern any limits on collection under them.” For example, he notes that the “market research” exemption includes “research about consumers,” which “would seem to include keeping track of every click made by a consumer.”
If you haven’t done so already, here’s a quick guide to turning on Do Not Track.