Jonathan Mayer, research fellow, Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University
Ever heard of Buysight, Lotame or 33Across? Odds are they’ve heard of you – and your browsing history. Web tracking is as pervasive as it is unpopular. Many ad networks, data aggregators and analytics providers recognize users should have privacy choices. The question is: What should those user privacy choices look like? Here’s a minimal set of criteria: A choice mechanism should enable a user to opt out of data collection, apply to all trackers and be user-friendly. And here’s how industry-proposed solutions stack up: Users can only opt out of tracking-targeted advertising, not tracking itself. The most comprehensive opt-out mechanism covers a small proportion of trackers. And to discover that mechanism, users must navigate a counterintuitive website. It should come as no surprise that trackers can’t develop a meaningful choice mechanism. Web tracking cuts across numerous industries, each packed with firms that have different business models, incentives and cultures. Congress and the FTC must step in to protect user privacy.
Robert Graham, CEO, Errata Security
This topic is like suggesting: “Congress shall pass laws protecting speech.” That is not what our Constitution or Bill of Rights say. These documents say exactly the opposite – that Congress shall not meddle with speech. The reason is that if Congress were to promote the “rights” of one group of speakers, the branch of government would necessarily infringe on the “rights” of other speakers. That is what is happening here.
Passing a tracking law infringes on the rights of website operators. If such a law were to pass, they would no longer be able to run their websites as they want. Instead, they would be required to follow a Byzantine set of regulations that were influenced by “big corporate” lobbyists, and which only expensive lawyers can figure out.
Rather than impose such sanctions, let us give technical solutions, such as browser extensions and standards, a chance first, before asking Congress to take the radical step of taking away our liberties and force a solution on us.