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Advertiser Networks Threaten Consumers Privacy Online

If you have been following online developments and technologies, then you've probably realized that advertiser networks try (or attempt) to collect an increasing amount of personal information about consumers.

For many years, that collection was limited to the use of web browser cookies, or when you signed into a website with an ID/password. Then "pop-up" and pop-under" ads appeared in an attempt to force the display of advertisements for users who regularly deleted their web browser cookie files. The collection then spread to "zombie" and Flash cookies, to apps at social networking websites, to "web bugs" and "web beacons," and lately to popular mobile devices. You can see some of the results of that data mining at websites like Spokeo and Pipl.

It was good to read this Philadelphia Inquirer article:

"Internet ad networks are likely tracking nearly everything you do - not just you, but also your teenage kids. The networks, along with data miners and brokers, are creating "online profiles" that become more and more valuable the deeper they get."

As you read this, many of you are thinking that there is no problem. Data collection provides the convenience of targeted or relevant advertisements for a better online experience, right? Yes, for those of use that value targeted advertisements online.

There have been some under-publicized advertising opt-out failures. Plus, those consumers who don't want the tracking are confronted with a growing list of opt-out links and do-not-track software, because the default so far has been everyone is included (whether you want to be included or not). That places the burden on consumers to continually opt-out of ad networks, who can easily configure their systems to auto-re-include consumers when things change. How fair is that?

There is also the issue of disclosure and notice in website privacy and terms-of-use policies. Those policies should be complete and accurate.

Maybe you don't care where your personal data goes and who it is shared with or sold to. I care about where my data is bought, sold, and shared. And you may care because it affects your children. The Center For Digital Democracy:

"... joined more than a dozen others Friday to urge the FTC to pay special attention to the vulnerability of teenage Internet users - those 13 and older, who are too young for the safeguards of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. One ironic result of that good law, they say, is that teenagers are essentially treated like adults online. Social-networking sites such as Facebook put adolescents at extra risk, not because the sites themselves are so insidious, but because they are places where young people share so much personal information - or perhaps over-share..."

That sounds like a good start to more sensible laws that balance the needs of consumers (and children) versus the needs of corporations.

I haven't covered childrens issues much in this blog, except in posts about the Ringleader class-action, and money management education for high school students. I expect to cover childrens issue more often during 2011.


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