Yesterday the World Wide Web Consortium named privacy expert and the Ohio State University Law Professor Peter Swire Co-Chair of its Tracking Protection Working Group. With a stellar reputation and a mountain of integrity, Swire's appointment is as good a move as anyone can hope for in what is a technically complicated and politically contentious situation.
Should consumers have the personal choice to control the technical ability to track on line activities? If so, how and to what degree? What affect would it have on a market increasingly driven by advertising, data mining, recompiling and targeted marketing techniques? In other words, would the "free" Internet because a toll road? Who makes the rules? Should those rules be driven by web consortium groups, such as W3C, or by public laws of nation states or unions, such as the European Union, or, in the United States, by administrative law, for example the Federal Trade Commission? What would the law require precisely? Would there be exceptions, for example, for not for profit organizations How would the law be effectuated? Enforced? What are the policy issues, social values and economic considerations at stake?
Stay tuned, citizens, for developments in this continuing saga! Because in all seriousness, these are important considerations that complement those surrounding changes afoot in Congress to amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The "Do Not Track" issue speaks to types 3 and 5 of the Privacy Rubric outlined in previous blogs, that is how the consumer should or should not be protected from corporate interests. Reasonable minds might disagree on the question of which is more important to protect, the individual against the government that has the power to indict, prosecute, fine or jail, or the consumer against rapacious corporate interests. At this point in the debate, I think to have it come to a singular conclusion is a red herring. Were I to ask it of students as a midterm question, it would be a trick. These issues are all of a piece … that piece being how individuals and consumers walk in the (Internet) world. Moreover, the answers to one inform and influence the direction of others. Stay tuned, and remember that about privacy, the whole is greater than even the sum of its very important parts.
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