Monetizing private online data (largely through digital advertising sales) is big business, according to the research firm emarketer.com. As Internet and technology companies have backed users into giving up personal data in exchange for free services they have come to love and depend on (think Gmail, Facebook), they have also caused a cultural shift in the definition of a tradable commodity. Privacy is now being freely traded online for services. In the realm of the ethical, it is much different to offer privacy, rather than money, in exchange for a service.
Google e-mailed its users Wednesday to inform them that if they continue to use Gmail, Google+ and the like, they will be held to the new policy. This means that anything shared on Google+, the social networking tool, is fair game to help better target personal Google searches.
The tech powerhouse says that by tailoring its services to the specific needs of its millions of unique users, it will optimize customer experience. But there is no opt-out option for consumers who disagree with the policy. Anyone who is not willing to accept the policy should close his or her account.
One way that website owners can stop tracking of data is to use a “do not track” or DNT setting in the HTTP header of a website.
According to the website donottrack.us maintained by the Stanford researchers that developed the protocol:
Do Not Track is a technology and policy proposal that enables users to opt out of tracking by websites they do not visit, including analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms. At present few of these third parties offer a reliable tracking opt out, and tools for blocking them are neither user-friendly nor comprehensive. Much like the popular Do Not Call registry, Do Not Track provides users with a single, simple, persistent choice to opt out of third-party web tracking.
Mozilla developed a tracker for Firefox and last year the Associated Press added the DNT header to its news sites. But according to PC World, there’s a “fatal flaw” in that it “relies on the tracking websites to play nice.”
The prevailing sentiment among users is that the individual consumer is left feeling powerless. After all, losses to the individual are potentially limitless if personal data is stolen or used in a way that is criminal or negligent. And users usually agree to make their data available in order to use free services.
Without any sort of concession to the users who use the products, will companies be able to sustain their grand ambitions for an ever-better world where a computer knows exactly what you want? They’ve earned user trust, but should operate with the fear of losing it instead of the attitude of unlimited license to operate. Otherwise, consumers could feel that the Internet is the new aristocracy.