The last time you were navigating a website did you ever think that the website might be interacting back with you?
Whether cruising the web and randomly enjoying what you come upon, or going through the routine of checking specific websites, such as a morning surf with CNN.com, then Weather.com, and on to Digg, most websites are gathering data about your computer. Each time a user lands on these sites, scripts “run” on your page potentially collecting information from your physical location to web browser settings. Some of these scripts improve the usability of the site, for example, so a contact form works properly, while others are loading cookies on your computer’s hard drive. A few scripts may be malicious but most of the time they are merely attempting to make your experience better.
The innocuous ones we don’t have to worry about, but wouldn’t it make it easier if the scripts were disclosed with an explanation of their purpose? Better yet, if we could chose to opt out?
Rick Boucher (pictured), a long time Virgina Democrat, who is considered to be one of the most technologically savvy members of Congress recently took over as chairman of the House Subcommittee looking after telecommunications, technology, and the Internet. One of his top priorities is the passing of a bill to regulate the privacy of Internet users.
Why Do Websites Run Scripts?
Marketing. Understanding your online needs and behavior means better targeted advertisements; from meeting singles online, to plus size clothing. Keep in mind, not all sites have scripts that are collecting your data, usually it is found with “big” sites. According to New York Times columnist, Saul Hansell, lobbyists for Internet companies and trade groups told him “they are preparing to ‘educate’ Mr. Boucher on the benefits of targeted ads.” Rep. Boucher is convinced that privacy legislation will be good for internet companies as it will enhance the confidence for internet businesses.
There is a long way to go before the bill is actually signed into law. With Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, as a member of Obama’s transition advisory board, both sides are sure to have their say, and the Obama administration has not said publicly if it wants any new privacy laws.
What Good is Coming Out of Rep. Boucher’s Effort?
Major website businesses are paying attention. Boucher’s placement of Internet privacy near top of his priority list means that the Googles and Amazons (and even the adult industry) of the world are taking note. While they may begin to implement variations of “opt-outs” so they can still get the data they desire while appeasing Boucher, there are literally billions of dollars behind companies which survive from Internet advertising. If Boucher wants his way, it’s not going to be an easy path.
Related Obu Posts: Internet Equality and a Tiered Network
Related Articles: Guide to Goggle’s New Privacy Controls
No-Script Browser Add On, as reccomended in the comment below.
All true, this is an interesting debate in that there is little regulation as to how much a site can do behind the scenes to “enhance end-user experience.” So if you are paranoid (like me), then I would encourage utilizing the “NoScript” add-on that can be used with Firefox, that allows just the scripts that you agree to run, actually be executed on your computer.
This was brought up on a radio program late last night and so far, Firefox is the only one to offer the NoScript, which fortunately, I have. Some of the bigger scams out there actually forward your email accounts to their own and if you do not sign out of online banking,credit card payments, etc. they are able to access all information.
Thanks Scott – You know a thing or two about network security, I appreciate the feedback.
The one thing that bugs me a bit is that gmail seems to read/scan my mail and target ads that fall in line with my email subjects. I’m looking at one of my emails about BMW leather and at the top I have a banner ad for BMW of San Diego. then I switch to an email about tennis strings and there is a banner ad for String Depot Plus. Is this a more sophisticated cookie application that they are using or is this something else going on? It just seems wrong that they do this and it is blatantly obvious.