This post was written as part of a research blogging assignment for Stanford’s Networked Rhetorics class. For more about this assignment, click here.
On the Internet, lots of everyone’s personal information is collected. Our search terms, personal data we put on the net, visited sites, location, etc. all are collected. Our sensitive information is out there on the Internet. The question is whether it is safe or not. Since there is sensitive information, we, normal people, do not want some strangers to see it. Here comes my research topic on Internet Privacy. This blogpost will explore a small part in that topic. We will look at one possible motivation for other people we do not know accessing our personal information: online behavioral advertising. (The other main cause for privacy issue is employers and government monitoring, which will also be included in the project.)
Behavioral advertising is the act that a service provider collect several information about each user and try to identify characteristics/personality of the user. Then the provider will use that information to supply advertisements which are likely to suits the taste of the user. In the beginning, it sounds good because the user will receive an ads which is supposed to be more interesting than random ads; however, there is a privacy issue. The service provider has to collect an adequate amount of data to verify what the user like and dislike. For example, Google is tracking the sites we visit, collecting our search terms, and reading all our emails. Then, it analyze this information and use Google AdSense to distribute relevant ads content. Other firms are doing the same thing. The information it collects is sensitive, so some are concerned about privacy and urge that this advertising model be regulated.
A report from Center for Democracy & Technology talks about this. Currently, advertising industry is under self-regulation. There is a guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The guidelines require the service provider to tell the user about what information it collected and how it is used, give an option to opt in and out of the service, and collect as less information as possible. The guidelines is not perfect; however, if industry follows it, users’ privacy should be guaranteed to some level. The downside is that this is just the self-regulatory approach, so there is no evident consequence of violating the guidelines. The FTC does have an authority to investigate the violation in case of the service provider violate the agreement that it shows to the users beforehand. But it is not legally required for the provider to state an agreement that follow the guidelines. In addition, there is no active monitoring organization to guard provider’s behavior. These are privacy problems we have now.
CDT, “Online Behavioral Advertising: Industry’s Current Self-Regulatory Framework Is Necessary, But Still Insufficient On Its Own To Protect Consumers”, Dec 9, 2009, <http://www.cdt.org/policy/online-behavioral-advertising-industry%E2%80%99s-current-self-regulatory-framework-necessary-still-in>
Phumchanit (Yiam) Watanaprakornkul, Stanford University