July 03, 2012, 1:55 PM —
Imagine stopping at an information kiosk during a long road trip to use the rest room and check some maps, then later finding GPS tracking devices unwittingly attached to your car that have monitored everywhere you've traveled since you left that information kiosk.
That's how Doc Searls, a fellow at the Center for Information Technology & Society and the author of the Intention Economy, describes browsing the Internet. A good example is Dictionary.com. The online dictionary often appears at the top of search engine results when users are looking for a quick definition. Once they've visited the actual site to get that definition, they're targeted by 234 tracking mechanisms, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The only difference between these two examples is that, when online, most people never see that GPS tracking device.
"You don't expect someone to stick something to your car and track where you're going, and yet that's normative now, because there's a kind of no-harm, no-foul orientation to that," Searls says. "It's not that we in any genuine sense think that's OK. It's that 99.99% of people have no idea what's going on because it's out of sight, out of mind."
Of course, this is nothing new, and efforts at protecting consumer privacy have culminated in the Do Not Track protocol that has drawn support from Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple and is currently being standardized by the World Wide Web Consortium. Congress has also made an effort, introducing the Do Not Track Online Act of 2011 last May.