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‘Dilbert’ Focuses On Online Privacy

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Tue, Feb 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm

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‘Dilbert’ Focuses On Online Privacy

When an issue becomes the topic of a comic strip, you know it’s on the nation’s agenda. Online privacy crossed that threshold today in Scott Adams’ Dilbert.

I’ve been saying that the need to protect online privacy is one area where a bipartisan consensus in Washington may emerge.  All sorts of polls, including ours, have shown popular support for legislation to protect consumers’ privacy online.

Dilbert drive’s the issue home today. Take a look:

The strip made me chuckle, but sadly it’s more on fact than fiction.  Right now much of the online advertising market is based on unauthorized spying on consumers. Clearly many computer engineers don’t have Dilbert’s moral compass. What can we do?

One tool is  a Do Not Track Me mechanism that would give consumers better control of their information and help restore their confidence in the Internet.  That’s a win-win for consumers and business. What kind of lasting business can be built on snooping on your customers? No company loses by respecting the wishes of its customers.

Last Friday Rep. Jackie Speier, D-CA, introduced HR 654, the Do Not Track Me Online Act, which authorizes the Federal Trade Commission to enact and enforce regulations that would give consumers a right to block companies from tracking their activities as they use the Internet.

Take action. Click on the comic strip above, go to the Official Dilbert Website and share the Dilbert strip with your friends.  Then, you can urge your Representative to support the Speier bill here.

Consumers should have the right to choose if their private information – from shoe size, to health concerns, to religious beliefs  – is collected, analyzed and profiled by companies tracking activities online. Do Not Track is the simple way for consumers to say ‘no thanks’ to being monitored while they surf the web.

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This post was written by:

John M. Simpson

- who has written 361 posts on Inside Google.

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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One Response to “‘Dilbert’ Focuses On Online Privacy”

  1. Juhani C Says:

    As someone that works at a company providing online services this is a matter that I’ve given a lot of thought, including from the consumer perspective.

    Any service needs to be profitable to keep running, and for that it needs revenue, which there are currently 3 ways of generating:
    1) advertising
    2) collecting data to either a) sell or b) improve advertising
    3) subscription services

    Now the problem is that everyone thinks the net should be free, but they also want to have no advertising and want to protect their privacy. Something has to give.

    I see nothing wrong with creating a do not track law, but I have to wonder what the consequence of it would be. Some time ago a well known site(I think it was ars technica though I may wrong) decided to block a lot of their content to people using ad-blockers. It was a hasty decision and they reversed it, however I just hope that people understand how the “freeness” of the internet has resulted in the current escalation of privacy issues and are prepared to pay for the services when they can’t be monetized through advertising revenue anymore.

    Dilemmas like the one Dilbert has are commonplace at my workplace and I’m sure they are too at most other small-mid sized web service providing companies. The reality is that you can make a great service, but no-one wants to pay for anything, so the standard route is always advertising->optimising advertising->tracking user data. The tools are already out there to stop tracking(just block cookies or use the anonymous browsing modes that google and others are providing in their browsers). Currently people pay for service with their privacy. Is this good? No, I think it is appalling and have always tried to push away from such methods. With competitors also providing free services financed by targetted advertising, a paying service just isn’t a viable alternative. People also have to show that they would actually prefer to pay for a service with real cash or increased targetless advertising. They certainly deserve the choice, but need to know about the consequences of not being tracked.

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