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Should Users Click Do-Not-Track Button?

Some of the world’s biggest Internet companies threw their support behind adding a “do-not-track button” to web browsers this week, but surprisingly, some analysts say not everyone should use it.

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Google and others made a policy U-turn, supporting a feature they resisted until now: the option to block sites from following them online. Companies could still use the information gathered from web browsing for market research and product development, reports say, but not for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. Existing private browsing options are similar,  but there is no legal impetus for all advertisers to abide by them. (Google did not respond to a request for comment.)

There are big advantages to being tracked for law-abiding citizens: consumers get advertisements and daily deals tailor-made for them. The do-not-track button will block relevant ads that reflect users’ web surfing habits or interests, says Dallas-based blogger Brian Hall. For example, by not pressing a do-not-track button users may receive a restaurant or clothing store recommendation when traveling based on their previous eating/shopping habits. “Is getting less-customized ads really that helpful? Probably not,” says Matt Wallaert, a behavioral psychologist and entrepreneur. He says the button is more about making people feel comfortable using the web, but he doesn’t see it as a game-changer.

Worse, a do-no-track button could make the Internet a more unpleasant experience by heralding the return to old staples like pop-up Viagra ads and X-rated commercials, tech-pros say. “I would encourage users to not click this button if you have children online,” says Wayne Irving, an app developer based in Laguna Niguel, Ca. “Please let kids get ads that are appropriate. The ads are not going to stop coming if you click this. You are just going to get the biggest online advertisers.” Irving has developed an app that relies on tracking to help parents keep abreast of where their children go and how fast they drive, but says he doesn’t share the GPS data with third parties.

And as more people press the do-not-track option, experts say fewer websites will be free. Social networkers get upset when Facebook changes its privacy settings, but they still expect the site to store their photographs, says Adam Levin, founder and chairman of advocacy group Identity Theft 911. “Many consumers are schizophrenic when it comes to tracking,” he says. “When asked if they are willing to trade data for a deal they are quite enthusiastic.” Of course, they do pay in other ways: it’s a game of quid-pro-quo. As SmartMoney.com reported,  people already may hand over $5,000 worth of personal information a year to Google.

The do-not-track button also won’t bring the kind of robust privacy measures sought politicians and advocates,  analysts say. That horse has already bolted, says Rick Summer, Internet analyst at Morningstar. “Advertisers will always want to know as much as possible about an audience,” he says. The do-not-track button won’t put a stop to that kind of market research, he says. “The likelihood of people achieving full anonymity is impossible.” Privacy experts say consumers need another button – one that promises not to share data with unknown third parties for market research. “Why is that not an option?” says Rick Dakin, CEO and co-founder of IT security business Coalfire. “Why can we not have a third choice?”

Read more on “How to be Invisible Online.”

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    • yes, more websites will go out of bs. i clearly click-thru PLENTY of ads…alas, not enough for the greedy. And you know, well…we used to type the website in, not it too much trouble? I’m DONE with google, there is NO DNT Button on either of my new IE version, moreover, because I decided not allow activeX and blocked three google cookies, I was suddenly unable and still am to get back in my yahoo mail. So I’m spending my bucks for a mail client, downloaded FREE DNT+ and if it works, gladly will pay. I dont mind paying for software IF it’s actually mine, not MS’s or Google’s. EX: The lie of installed MSOffice Starter — which STARTS upon activation the dreaded clicktorun and the original is gone forever unless you…buy MSOFFICE. Might to that when they stop making updates that crash my pc — in fact, this is the last PC I’ll ever buy. Apple has just done a better job all the way around. Hope there’s another Steve Jobs in the wings

    • “And as more people press the do-not-track option, experts say fewer websites will be free.”

      And as more websites start to charge people, more websites will go out of business.

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