Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Do Not Track" controversy on web reminds one of the debates over filters and labels to protect minors

There is a controversy over “do not track” proposals, both as legislation and as a facility that users should invoke from browsers (they already can to some extent, especially with IE8).

Critics of the idea say that it would destroy the business model of the Internet, the ability of advertisers to show visitors ads that might actually lead to sales of products or services, pay people’s salaries, and help the economy. Makes sense.

More specifically, they say it would lead to “two Webs”: one with little free content and little advertising and little privacy risk (no need to log on or give personal information), the other where visitors accept some “risk”.

All of this reminds me of the debate on Internet filters for minors as was stimulated by COPA. The use of content labels, as already described here (and advocated by the ICRA, etc) generally promotes the idea of bifurcation of websites, with some intended to be seen by all visitors, and some only by adults or older minors. That’s the way it’s been with movies (and the rating systems) for years.

But to work, the whole web service industry along with advertising sponsors would have to have confidence in a world of relatively well educated or mature adults who can surf safely (and live safely) while accepting more “risk” on the web because they “know what they’re doing.” In practice, that ought to work. But it sounds like a tough sell.

It does sound as though the ICRA techniques for labeling content with metatags and using semantic web tools could be used to distinguish websites that allow advertisers to track, and that visitors could be told when loading a website whether tracking is permitted by their browser according to tags (but see Friday's post).

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