Most Internet consumers know when they visit a website, it may deposit a “cookie” on their computer – to beneficially adjust how they are treated on return visits. The cookie may avoid the visitor needing to sign in again, or may avoid presenting content the visitor has already seen.
But some cookie depositors have more noxious plans for visitor information. Google dominates – but Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group, and PointRoll use similar cookie-based techniques to track Internet users. The quality of data they have sets the price they can charge for advert placement. Most consumers object to this data collection and adjust their browser privacy settings to the strongest level consistent with being allowed to use their favorite sites. Despite consumer wishes, there is evidently so much money to be made that these consumer trackers just plough ahead.
In 2009, Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt was appointed by President Obama to his Science and Technology Advisory Council so he could advise on formulating “policy in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people.” So how is Schmidt’s advisory relationship working for the American people?
- In 2011, Google settled with the FTC and agreed to “not misrepresent” its privacy practices to consumers – subject to a $16,000 fine per instance per day.
- In January 2012 Google followed Microsoft’s lead by announcing its next version of Chrome would offer a stronger “opt-out” stance. The move was seen as a minor improvement.
- On February 17, Google’s subversion of user privacy settings on Apple’s Safari and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was documented by WSJ. Google bypassed the user’s settings so it could track users. Google said the engineering it installed to bypass rivals’ browser privacy settings was “accidental.” Following Google’s maltreatment of Internet users, the WSJ polled readers on Google’s actions. As of Feb 23rd, found 65% were “very upset”, 21% “not happy” and 14% “not concerned.” Many commenters admitted they loathe class action suits, but would gladly join one in this instance.
- On February 22, dozens of state Attorneys General (AGs) wrote Google to criticize its plan to meld tracking data that it harvested from its many products, i.e. blend user’s Google search, Gmail, and YouTube uses to sharpen its advert placements. The AGs saw this plan as harmful to consumers.
- On February 23rd, as part of the Digital Advertising Alliance Google agreed to adopt the White House’s Privacy Bill of Rights, which includes some user control over what data can be collected and how it can be used.
This looks suspiciously like a discredited politician jumping into the front of the parade. Will “connections” and this gambit duck the $16,000/day/instance fine?
Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Colorado. He follows public policy from the consumer’s perspective.