I try to maintain a certain level of anonymity when I’m browsing the web, and when I talk with friends or clients about privacy and internet security I encourage them to do the same. If I’m browsing to your web site and I’m intending to purchase a product from your business, you’ll need information like my name and email address in order to complete a safe transaction. But until I decide to initiate that transaction, or explicitly look for sales assistance, I’d prefer to be as invisible as possible.
I imagine an online business often has quite different priorities. As someone who has come to their site, they’d like to collect more information on me. Is there some question I’m not getting answered on my own? Something they can actively do to encourage my sale? Could my demographic info be of value to them? Perhaps it’ll help evaluate an advertising campaign’s progress, or provide feedback on the effectiveness of their SEO tactics?
But if businesses gain value from the currency of my browsing habits, what’s in it for me? If my privacy has commercial value, then I’d rather keep it in my own pocket, thanks.
Of course it’s difficult to be totally anonymous on the web. There are IP address anomymizing systems like Tor or Freenet that are pretty spiff if you’re behind the Great Firewall of China, but they’re slow and aggravating for my simple needs.
There are many other blog posts that talk about configuring your web browser for more privacy, such as this excellent article by Dennis O’Reilly at CNET. But as a Firefox user, my favorites are the ever-popular NoScript and AdBlock Plus browser plugins.
But most importantly it puts me in the driver’s seat for deciding whether or not Clippy the friendly Automated Sales Assistant will pop up in my face when I’m shopping for widgets, and for that I’m grateful. When marketers take my acceptance of passive communication (browsing) and turn it into an assumption of acceptance of active communications (telemarketing, online chat, pushy sales clerk), then I push back.
What are your opinions about web tracking? I’d love to read your comments…