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Monday, August 18, 2008

House Continues its Push to Limit Web Tracking

When it comes to tracking users online, everyone says they do it more responsibly than their digital counterparts. Trust us, they say. We'd never use your surfing, search or personal history in any way that could possibly put your personal information at risk. It's our competitors you need to watch out for.

The latest to try this ploy: our friends at Microsoft.

The Redmond software giant told a House inquiry that it does track what users do on sites that it doesn't own -- a practice that many in the tech industry and even some on Capitol Hill are finding troublesome.

But Microsoft isn't alone. Comcast has already been vilified for its practices, and AT&T was skewered last week for its revelation about customer tracking.

In fact, most of us -- whether we know it or not -- want to be tracked. It's how your computer learns about your habits, what you might like and such. What you don't want -- whether you know it or not -- is for that information to be treated as if it's not yours. Companies shouldn't be able to use it and filter you towards sites (through search results) that are part of a network conglomerate.

Here's what that means in regular people terms:

If Company A decides to track your Web history and it sees that you really like camping, it could begin to serve up search results and other targeted ads that aren't necessarily giving you the best information available, but instead giving you the best information that is also beneficial to that company -- say in the form of businesses that have an advertising deal with Company A.

In other words, Company A has used your history to push its products -- not serve you the best information.

The Web then becomes a vast marketing machine serving corporations, not serving people.

Even worse: if Company A has a deal with an Internet Service Provider, it could slow down the websites of a business it doesn't have a partnership with, making it more difficult for you to find information that Company A doesn't want you to find.

By Brad at 04:22 PM | Comments (0)

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