Will Technology Make “Do Not Track” Laws Unnnecessary?

Sunday's Times reported that the next version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer will include a "Do Not Track" privacy setting as a default. Consumers installing the browser will be presented with the option of switching from the default to permit tracking.  Excerpts:

But the specter of people opting out of tracking en masse presents a serious risk for marketers.

Consumer data, marketers say, is the fuel that powers the Internet, driving ads that support free content and e-mail services, search engines and social networks. If millions of consumers opted out of behavior-based advertising, industry representatives argue, many ad-sponsored sites could shut down or put up pay walls for people who elect not to see the ads. * * *

But Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student in computer science at Stanford who has studied online tracking, says there is cause for deeper concern. For him, the issue is not behavior-based ads, but the data-mining necessary to produce them.

For instance, Mr. Mayer says, consumers may not be aware that when they visit a site, dozens of entities, like analytics companies and data aggregators, may be operating on that page, collecting online information about them, and amassing those details for advertising purposes. Moreover, he says, those entities could potentially have access to screen names or e-mail addresses that might be used to re-identify people.

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