The Do Not Call list has proved a huge hit with consumers.Now, a collection of privacy advocates wants the Federal Trade Commission to launch a similar Do Not Track List that will prevent behavioral advertisers from tracking online activities over time.
The scheme is the brainchild of the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other privacy watchdogs.Although it has the virtue of simplicity, implementing the plan does pose some practical challenges since it requires browser updates or new plug-ins.
At the heart of the new system is a list, maintained by the FTC, of all domain names that are mapped to behavioral advertising servers.All US advertisers would be required to submit domains to this list, and the list would then be downloaded by a web browser (or a browser plug-in). The list could be used to block tracking cookies from such sites, but would not function as a general filter on advertising.
A schematic view of the Do Not Track system
There is precedent for the idea—look at the built-in anti-phishing controls in both IE7 and Firefox for an example of how this sort of a list could work—but it's not quite as simple for consumers as typing a number into a web site and watching the telemarketing calls shrivel up and die. The simple fact that this could require browser updates or plug-ins might keep many users from making use of the list. The Do Not Track List also must be activated from every computer that a person uses in order to be most effective.
The proposal for the new list comes one day before the FTC holds a major conference of its own on behavioral advertising, and it comes amid mounting concern from privacy groups about the implications of the proposed Google/DoubleClick merger.
Although industry groups already have several opt-out systems in place for consumers (DoubleClick has its own system, for example), the privacy advocates don't believe that they are effective. Consumers usually need to go looking for such tools, and no single tool applies to every advertiser.
"If you look back at the Do Not Call list, it was at one time managed by industry. But it didn't gain widespread acceptance until the FTC took it over," said Pam Dixon, who heads the World Privacy Forum. "The industry has had seven years to prove they can manage online opt-outs. It is time to move toward something structured like the Do Not Call list to address the problems we're seeing, and have now seen for seven years."