The Do Not Call list was created to legislate which kinds of companies can call which kinds of telephones for which kinds of purposes in order to help people reduce the number of guilt-inducing, fear-mongering, and pressure-filled sales pitches they receive. And to a large extent, it has worked. Here in Canada, I can tell you almost to the day when my membership on that list has expired as the phone suddenly comes to life.
I wonder, though, can a legislative approach towards maintaining privacy work in the online space? Website analytics is an enormous global business. Social media analytics is becoming an enormous global business. The global nature of the work means that just because a client resides in the US or Canada or the UK doesn’t mean that their supplier is also going to reside in the same country and therefore be bound by the same laws. So legislating a Do Not Track list isn’t a perfect solution.
Consumer action is a second option. Just as software has been developed to track and patch together multiple profiles of the same person across different websites, software will be (has been?) developed to depersonalize, unpatch, and prevent the tracking of data. It would be one more piece of software to add to your already growing collection of spamware on every computer.
Companies with little need for consumer respect or repeat purchases will be able to choose vendors that don’t care to be informed about or practice legislation from other countries. For these less than respectable companies, you will need to continue to paying for your spam software and your Do Not Track software.
On the other hand, companies that want to maintain a position of respect and loyalty among their consumers will work together to build the rules and legislation, and they will practice those rules. You won’t need software to keep them away because they will respect your wishes. In fact, you might even want to give these companies special privileges because they are taking such care with your information. The fact is, these are the companies that are legitimately trying to make your life better, whether through better products and services or simply by giving you relevant coupons and other valuable offers.
Personally, I’m in favour of a Do Not Track list because it will ensure that companies think carefully about what they are tracking and whether they really need to track it. But if privacy is something you really want, you’ll need to invest in yet more software. Get your wallet out.