A few years ago, there was a strong initiative to create a "Do Not Track" option on the internet, which would keep advertisers from following you from website to website, watching your every browsing and spending move. The hope was that with a single browser option, consumers could block advertisers from following them around the web. On the Media even did a relatively lengthy look at the initiative as proposed by the FTC in 2010.
three and a half years later, the Do Not Track initiative looks like an ambitious, but spectacular failure.
Via an article on Computerworld, you can now enable it, but it's basically useless:
That's because most websites either don't honor DNT -- it's currently a voluntary system -- or they interpret it in different ways. Another problem -- perhaps the biggest -- is that Web companies, ad agencies and the other stakeholders have never reached agreement on what "do not track" really means.
"It was conceived to be a uniform signal," said Sid Stamm, one of DNT's three founders. But, "part of the problem is there's a wide range of expectations," said Stamm, who is senior manager of security and privacy engineering at Mozilla. Mozilla's Firefox browser has the DNT tool, as do Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Opera.
This is one of the pitfalls that we always weigh in talking about speculative or incomplete initiatives on the radio - that one day we might look back at this idea that seemed good at the time and see it dashed on the rocks of history, as is the case with Do Not Track. The open internet is a boon to users, because it provides us a freedom to move, to explore, to consume that is (for the moment), free and unfettered.
But that same lack of regulation has benefitted advertisers and other people who have a material interest in triangulating your spending habits, or simply your personal info. And for the moment, it seems like the government is incapable of legislating this kind of tracking we might want to avoid without scooping up corners of our freedom of movement in the process. So once again, it's up to us as consumers to be savvy about how and where we consume information on the internet.