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Wanna be watched as you surf?

Posted by Richard D North in Media / Money / Privacy / Rights on 10 June 2008

Why we posted this: We are learning a lot about how our online activities can be monitored. For much of the time, this may suit many users. How come? We ought to know, surely?

The original story:
Watching while you surf
Technology Quarterly
The Economist
7 June 2008  
Summary of the story:
The Economist tells a fascinating story of how internet service providers can now monitor their customers’ online habits and sell that data on to online advertisers who want to improve their targeting. This might be a good thing. The paper notes that ISPs may offer discounts to customers willing to be targeted. The Economist supposes that the important thing for users is that they get told what may happen and that they get a choice. It suggests that “passive” or assumed or “inertia” approaches to this permission are suspect. Customers need to opt-in to having information handed on (they shouldn’t have to opt-out).

livingissues comment:
Transparency is very interesting. One might argue that almost everyone’s online surfing is boring (though it may be commercially valuable to advertisers) and that hardly anyone does anything scandalous online. How many people care about one’s sexual proclivities, for instance? Well, maybe partners and parents do, just for starters – and so one might be a bit shy of which advertisers lobbed material onto a screen which was shared within the household.  Anyway, The Economist has surely identified a sound principle: easy prior, informed consent is important. Otherwise: hands off my data.

By the way: Chistopher Caldwell has a very interesting story in the Financial Times (6 June 2008) on how a major German telecoms company has been caught abusing its technological position - and also old habits of state control - to invade people’s privacy.

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