There's a new bill on the horizon from California Democrat Jackie Speier.
The Do Not Track Me Online Act claims to be the "Do Not Call" Registry of the Internet.
Sounds like a great idea, right? Unfortunately, it sounds fantastic. I say "unfortunately," because the proposed bill is incredibly dangerous.
There are few ideas coming from California lately that have worried me like this, and that's saying a lot. All this bill does is show just how clueless lawmakers are about technology. The concept itself is fundamentally-flawed, completely impractical, and will almost certainly do more damage than good.
First of all, there's no mention in the bill of how exactly this would be accomplished. It's not nearly as simple as the "Do Not Call" registry. Everyone has a phone number that - for the most part - never changes. Not so on the Internet.
People are using a growing number of diverse devices to access the Internet: Desktops, Laptops, Netbooks, Tablets, Smartphones, Webphones, Game consoles, and even TVs; just to name a few.
Almost every device has several browsers available to them, and I'm not even going to get into the varied ways these devices connect to the Internet in the first place (Cable, DSL, Satellite, business networks, Wimax, Cellphone connections, etc.).
A "Do Not Track" option has been on the wishlist of privacy advocates like Consumer Watchdog and the Center for Digital Democracy for quite some time, and eight such organizations have announced their support. The FTC also indicated that it would back a "Do Not Track" option in December report.
This has all the stink of the gun control ideology (or should I say "idiology"? /stupid pun). "The solution to gun violence is more gun control laws." Nope. Sorry. Wrong. Tell that to the poor victims of the Fort Hood shooting, the Virginia Tech shooting, or any other school shooting you can think of. Those "safe zones" only prevented the victims from being able to protect themselves.
Now, of course this isn't the same thing. Stopping ad companies from tracking people isn't going to put anyone in mortal danger. It will, however, cripple productivity and the Internet economy as we know it.
Why? Who follows the laws? People who follow the laws. Who breaks the laws? People who break the laws. Read that again in case you missed it.
I can absolutely guarantee that whatever method used to implement this list would be easily detected and bypassed by Internet tracking companies. The only way it couldn't is if the country spent every last dime on this effort and didn't eat for five years.
So what will happen then? The law-abiding companies will obey, stop making money, and go under. The less-concerned-with-legality companies won't obey, and will make a killing because their services will be in much higher demand by the people who use tracking information.
How would this affect the rest of the world? Would ad companies in China, Russia, or any other country really be concerned with our laws on privacy? Probably not.
All this bill could possibly do is hurt U.S. companies who follow the rules and provide more incentive for others not to follow the rules. Internet advertising (especially targeted advertising) literally makes everything we take for granted on the Internet possible. Without the current infrastructure, the Internet as we know it, would not exist.
Plenty of (free) tools already exist that effectively protect privacy: TOR, Adblock, Noscript, etc. Heck, every major modern browser even has a privacy mode built right in (I would highly recommend TOR for anyone serious about protecting their privacy).
Want to help people protect their privacy? Raise *awareness* about those existing options.
But please, please, PLEASE don't create yet another inefficient, ineffective bureaucratic placebo that kills productivity and the economy of the Internet.