Fears of Online Tracking Are Baseless

Online advertisers are already self-regulating to ensure consumer privacy isn’t violated.

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Stuart Ingis is a partner at Venable LLP and counsel for the Digital Advertising Alliance.

Recently, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz stated, "My position is clear: I support an easy, persistent opt out on third-party tracking that limits collection with a few exceptions, such as security." The business community agrees, and has invested millions to develop and implement a control mechanism that enables consumers to stop the collection of Web viewing data with limited exceptions including fraud and security.

This approach provides consumers with choice regarding online viewing data, while also ensuring continued free or low-cost products and services and allowing businesses to innovate. The flow of data supports advertising that is essential to thousands of large and small online publishers. Most of the top 10 online publishers depend on the thriving online data ecosystem. They are free to consumers and therefore rely on advertising revenue.

The widely used "Do Not Track" slogan fuels baseless fears about online privacy and implies that there should be no online data collection unless consumers opt in. Online data collection is not a "problem" to be fixed but an integral part of the Internet. The Internet's architecture requires websites to collect non-personal information for basic functions, like serving a page and preventing a browser from receiving the same ad repeatedly.

[Rep. Jackie Speier: Congress Must Pass the Do Not Track Me Online Act]

Nevertheless, there have been efforts to shift from an open and seamless Internet to one where collection is not permissible unless a consumer opts in. This approach would harm the online experience and is unnecessary because robust industry self-regulation is already giving consumers transparency and choice over online data collection.

Online advertising subsidizes the free content and services that consumers value and enjoy today. Without it, consumers would likely find their online experience diminished by new paywalls and fewer offerings. The Internet economy also drives economic growth and job creation. As a default, Do Not Track severs the flow of information that is vital to the commercial Internet and critical to the survival of small businesses.

There is a better way. Through the Digital Advertising Alliance, industry has built a self-regulatory system that enables a more transparent ecosystem, balancing consumer interests in privacy with business-driven innovation. The Digital Advertising Agency's Self-Regulatory Program gives consumers choice over their browsing data while ensuring that necessary business and technical functions can continue.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should There Be an International Treaty on Cyberwarfare?]

The DAA's Advertising Option Icon is served in more than one trillion ad impressions per month and is reaching virtually all U.S. consumers online. The Direct Marketing Association and the Council of Better Business Bureaus actively enforce the program using industry-leading technology that has already identified more than a dozen companies and brought them into compliance with the program. The FTC, Department of Commerce, and the White House have all praised the DAA's achievements. And advertisers have embraced the program because they understand how much consumers favor more transparent relationships with them. The program is working.

As Leibowitz has suggested, "opt out" is the preferred form of choice for Web viewing data. Industry has embraced this approach through a self-regulatory program that allows consumers to control how data are collected and used. This approach ensures data will continue to fuel the Internet economy while providing consumers with access to a rich array of products and services.

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