Report: advertisers undermining Do Not Track plans
Berkeley research finds consumers and advertisers increasingly at odds over online activity tracking
The internet advertising industry is undermining moves to improve online privacy in a bid to protect a market "optimised to maximise collection of data", according to a report into Do Not Track by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.
According to the report, advertising companies are simultaneously trying to water down proposed laws on Do Not Track, while working on methods to circumvent the limited protections already in place in web browsers such as Internet Explorer.
Do Not Track is a setting in browsers that asks advertising networks not to drop cookies or other tracking devices onto computers. The specification for the system isn't yet final, but the Berkeley report found that advertisers were trying to weaken the technology during negotiations with US regulators as well as ignoring user requests not to be tracked.
Do Not Track has been under consideration for several years in a bid to protect privacy, but the Berkeley report claims US regulators and ad networks are no closer to finding a balance between protecting privacy protection and the web's financial model.
Industry groups presently are lobbying for a different interpretation of Do Not Track that would allow pervasive tracking and use of information derived from online experiences, even if the consumer opts out
"The advertising industry has argued for systemically weakening what 'Do Not Track' means, and has retreated from earlier, stronger promises to limit tracking," it found.
The researchers also said the advertising industry was backtracking on earlier promises to respect user requests not to be tracked. "Industry groups presently are lobbying for a different interpretation [of Do Not Track] that would allow pervasive tracking and use of information derived from online experiences, even if the consumer opts out," the report said.
For example, 60% of research respondents said that Do Not Track should mean just that, but the industry wants to be able to collect such data for other purposes, such as market research.
Although the report acknowledges that advertising is critical to the web's economy, it said respondents felt there was too much information traded without their knowledge by companies unrelated to the sites they visited.
The researchers highlighted how companies like Facebook had set up deals with chemists to buy data on Facebook users’ "specific purchases in CVS drug stores in order to show whether targeted ads served to individual profiles actually resulted in increased sales of the advertised products”.