Have Behavioral Advertisers Stolen Your Identity? 1,322 words Remember that scene in Minority Report when Tom Cruise’s character walks into a mall and digital ads all around him continually pitch him by name? This technology is already in practice with online users. Instead of scanning your eyes to target you, advertisers scan your Internet Protocol (IP) address and create personal data profiles about your online interactions in order to impersonate your future self as a consumer.
For most Americans, browsing, shopping and messaging online have all become daily activities that have given us more convenience and the ability to reach out farther across the world. As we utilize the internet a trail of data begins to accumulate. Internet service providers, advertising networks, and hackers track websites that online users visit, and collect detailed data of interactions on them. The personal data that online users provide and store online is not legally protected as files and records privately kept in their homes.
Personalized and tailored information has become a dependable feature for online users, but companies are not communicating clearly about the options they have to keep their personal data within a clearly accessible environment. I believe that the American public has a right to know where advertisers keep their personal data on the internet. The convenience of free personalized online services in exchange for personal data is expected by Americans, but there is a growing lack of concern for online user’s private relations with internet businesses.
In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “They Know What You’re Shopping For,” Jennifer Valentino-Devries reports on a Georgia resident’s experience researching BMWs online. The report tells the story of a man who sent a note to a showroom near Atlanta using a form on the dealer’s website to provide them with his name and contact information. Without his knowledge the personal note was also sent to a car shopper tracking site called Dataium LLC. Dataium had put together an analysis of the auto websites that the man had anonymously visited, and then linked it with his name and contact information.
It is as if the Dataium company was following the man’s every move around car dealerships and making notes until they finally were in a position to see his full name, email address, home and work address as well. The growing ability to associate online user’s real identities with online browsing history indicates a change in what is considered an American right to privacy. The border between public and private lives is becoming unclear according to a 2012 study by the Wall Street Journal. Out of fifty popular websites including WSJ. om, twelve websites sent potentially personally identifiable information such as email addresses or full real names to third parties. These third party companies are often tracking the online user’s interactions with small text files called cookies. These small files provide their creators with information about browsing habits, such as the ads opened, the products looked at, interactions made, and time and duration of visits on a page. With the real full name of an online user, suddenly a relatively unknown party not only knows who you are, but specifically what you are interested in and where you are looking for it.
Data-aggregators and advertisers who hold or utilize personal data are exploiting American online user’s identities because they take control over the information forever. In an article titled, “Advertising Gets Personal,” John Nicholson, counsel for the Pillsbury Winthorp Shaw Pittman law firm, discusses that the problem lies in overly complex and incomprehensible privacy policies. Nicholson states that, “The U. S. has treated personal information as more of a sales transaction and said that businesses can do what they want with it. ” The current system works for behavioral advertisers benefit.
As they collect and analyze data, the information they get out of it can be sold and repurposed as capital for third-party companies. As long as businesses can justify that they are being true to their privacy policies little is done by the FTC to stop businesses from creating detailed profiles of online users. The practices in the United States seem to have a fundamental problem with the idea behind how personal data is kept and maintained. According to Nicholson, “Europeans use more of a licensing model that focuses on the person owning their data and a business renting it for a specific use. He explains that the European Data Protection Directive and a newer Data Protection Regulation set tight controls over how data can be collected, stored, and used. This also includes provisions for notifying consumers and obtaining their consent. The goal is for consumers to choose the data they make available to companies. Under the European Data Protection Directive data aggregators work with only the data they need and have permission to use, keep it for only as long as it is immediately valuable for the given purpose, and then delete the data.
In America, Nicholson explains that, “The reality is that we’re currently paying in a currency we don’t understand because most people don’t recognize the actual value of personal information. ” As online users post data across various sites, and make up to date autobiographies about their daily lives through social networks, many fail to understand how advertisers capitalize on this data. In order to prevent advertisers and various data aggregators from collecting and combining your information, many believe that the government should only regulate against those who falsely act according to their privacy policies.
In a CQ Researcher article titled, “Online Privacy”, Berin Szoka, the director of the Center for Internet Freedom, states that the online industry should regulate on its own and urges that the government focus on finding the truly bad actors in industry and bringing enforcement actions against them for violating privacy policies. The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Commerce has endorsed self-regulation programs, such as the Network Advertising Initiative which provides user-friendly mechanisms to consumers who wish opt out of targeted ads from over 60 companies.
Congress has also considered many bills that aimed to prevent internet companies from third-party tracking without affirmed consent, but none of the legislation passed. The bills were generally deemed too ambiguous or over controlling. Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Google Chrome provide user-friendly filtering options that block the ability of companies to collect data and track user’s interactions across the web. These privacy features include the ability to disable third-party cookies which have latched on to users and tracked them across multiple web pages.
Szoka believes that these tools are readily available to internet users and they should be tested and utilized before the government gains more power over the internet. The issue between secure stability for online consumers and the growth of free, open innovation that empowers online users has yet to be decided on. So far posed government solutions have been far too simplistic for addressing an issue that is so complex. Although utilizing self-regulating tools takes time to learn, I believe the best solution available for preventing your personal data from being collected and sold way is to become an active user of online privacy tools. This solution maintains the innovation of the internet while providing security to each online user. An internet user that shares their experiences with privacy sites and participates alarms those in their internet community of bad and deceptive actors. New browser controls provided by Google, Microsoft, and Apple are becoming very easy and efficient tools to use. These tools are also more communicative between businesses and free.
These tools must be harnessed by online users even with proposed legislations because they will ensure that online users feel safe. Ultimately, the internet user is the one who knows if they feel sites are being honest, and with greater knowledge provided by self-regulating tools and relations between the public and authorities online, there may be a feasible solution to the online privacy issue which no government regulation can fully address freely.