Recently, Mozilla and Microsoft added a new feature to their browsers and all hell broke lose pitting consumers, Congress, regulators, and advertisers against each other over surveillance.
‘Do Not Track.’ If you use the latest versions of Firefox or Internet Explorer then blocking advertisers from tracking you is as easy as checking a box. Check a box and advertisers can’t see where you go on the Web, how long you linger, or what you click when. Check a box and cause Congress, the Federal Trade commission, the Association of National Advertisers, Dell, IBM, Intel, Visa, Wal-Mart and others to engage in the mother of all food fights over the right to engage in surveillance of your Web activity.
You don’t realize it but in exchange for access to free Web services like maps, email, games, and social networks you trade away your privacy. You are in fact under surveillance by a media ecosystem of third party aggregators, advertisers, and service providers all of whom are trying to read your mind and anticipate your next move. The effect of all this surveillance is that information is customized for you based upon your online activity and displayed on Web pages in real-time as you surf. Today most Web pages contain ad images that reflect your interests and it’s likely you’re not even conscious of it. An entire digital reality has evolved on the Web and your comfort level with it may be a direct result of the manner and extent that it seems like home—that it looks like you. Check that box and your browser will begin reflecting some random entity that bears little resemblance to yourself.
Which makes us wonder…is trading away privacy a ‘Faustian Bargain’ or a mechanism for self-discovery?