Monday, July 22, 2013

New York Times remains unconvincing on "do not track"; maybe Washington Post's "Switch" blog will take up the business model issues

Sunday, the New York Times took a fairly strong position supporting “Do Not Track” in an editorial, called “Don’t Track Us”, link here.

I was a bit bemused by the way the editorial tries to have it both ways as to how advertisers could sell effectively to customers who wish to opt out of all tracking with straightforward settings (preferably set in browsers by default) that are not easily subverted by advertisers with clever workarounds.  It suggests that Twitter has a solution, but then says that the user can still opt out of it.

We’re only beginning to grasp the “trade-offs” implicit in our Internet policy decisions.  “Free entry” (or low barrier-to-entry) by novice authors or writers does add to the depth of debate and does tend to keep established corporate and political (and even familial) interests “honest”.  Anderson Cooper’s pet phrase really belongs to the newbie speakers, not just to CNN.  Yet the speech comes at a price: lax responsibility for it (backed up by various immunities to downstream liability for pocketed providers), with the result that in various ways some people become victims to various evils, whether piracy, cyberbullying, reputational damage, or sleuthing and stalking, and possibly, in extreme cases, being set up.  To some extent, modern social media has softened the issue by tying the distribution of content preferably to people known to the speaker in advance.

I share the concern of many people, however, that “surveillance” by both “private” commercial and government interests can, while usually innocuous, in extreme cases create dangerous situations for some people, based on “appearances”.   I’ll take this up soon when I review another book by GWU law professor Daniel Solove.
I see that the Washington Post is going to introduce a  new tech blog, “The Switch, headed by Timothy B. Lee, who came to the Post from Ars Technica (and whom I met at “the U” when living in Minneapolis 1997-2003 and promoting my own DADT book), story here. I hope The Switch will take up this “business model” question, posed by “do not track”. in detail soon. 

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