Yes! Despite hearing all of Big Tech’s protests, there is a simple privacy law that makes sense without destroying the tech industry. Let me explain, but first, for reference if you are unfamiliar, then you should know that DuckDuckGuy (my company) has an approach to raising the standard of trust online and so this topic is near and dear to our hearts. We are strongly opposed to tracking users and are a leading provider of privacy protection tools, including a private search engine option for Google (Chrome, DuckDuckGo Private Search), a private mobile web browser option for Chrome (iOS / DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser for Android) is included. And a plugin that makes your desktop more private and browseable (DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials for Safari / Firefox / Chrome).
As you probably know, many countries are doing much needed work to update their privacy laws for this modern era right now. However, they are constantly missing a key component when doing so: an easy opt-out mechanism. Anyone who has visited a European website in the past year will know what I am talking about. While Europe’s GDPR law does a lot of great things, it has also created pop-up hell, much like the cookie law that preceded it.
What we need right now is a law that works in concert with the GDPR (and other similar laws) to give consumers a simple mechanism to exercise their opt-out rights. And thankfully, there is an old idea that we can revive for this purpose.
Ten years ago, privacy researchers proposed this compelling idea to help protect people’s privacy: a web browser setting called Don’t Track. Once enabled, your browser can send a Do Not Track signal to the websites you visit, notifying them that you collect or share your personal information for behavioral advertising, price discrimination, or any other purpose. Do not allow to do. If this setting was working, all those hidden trackers looking at you around the internet would be cut off in one shot.
Unfortunately, this idea broke when the advertising-tech industry stuck to any meaningful self-regulation. Despite this, many web browsers have actually built the feature into their platforms, and in the intervening years, millions of people worldwide have turned on the feature. The Forrester research report found 25% of people using the Do Not Track setting, and a national survey in which we found 23%.
Of course, oblivious to the vast majority of these people, this browser setting is still doing next to nothing. It is currently left individually on each site that they think is correct. And, lo and behold, none of the big tech companies do anything with it, giving all these people a false sense of privacy. However, this can change overnight with a law that does not track compliance.
It is extremely rare for such an exciting legislative opportunity where the most difficult work – coordinated mainstream technical implementation and widespread consumer adoption – has already been done. That is why we also took time to draft the model donut track law earlier this year.
Here’s how it will work. The signal will work like it does today – enabled by your web browser, operating system (for apps), or Internet router (for home devices). For once, the companies receiving the signal have to respect it, and you have to stop tracking. The law will need to define what is allowed and what is not allowed. We defined it in our proposal as follows:
- No third-party tracking by default. Data brokers will no longer be able to use legally hidden trackers to eliminate your personal information from the sites you visit. And companies that deploy the most trackers on the web – led by Google, Facebook and Twitter – will no longer be able to collect and use your browsing history without your permission.
- Nobody performs first-party tracking more than the user. For example, if you use WhatsApp, its parent company (Facebook) will not be able to use your data from WhatsApp in unrelated situations (such as for Facebook advertising, also owned by Facebook). As another example, if you visit a weather site, it can give you local forecasts, but may not share or sell your location history.
As a one-to-one setting, Do Not Track provides that simple mechanism to enable consumers to exercise their opt-out rights and avoid aggressive data collection and profiling. The endless stream of European popups that are subject to GDPR will be significantly reduced with Do Not Track. And, in major browsers and operating systems as a setting, this is nothing short of an easily dark pattern.
Crucially, legislative teeth in the Do Not Track browser setting will not destroy online advertising, as some companies fear. Unlike behavioral ads, people who do not track duplicates can still be shown relevant ads (depending on the context of the page, ie its content you type as you search), unlike your ads. Purchase, and more). Growing evidence says that it can be equally profitable and that is exactly how DuckDuckGo makes money. In other words, business can continue, users can get great products, and your privacy can be protected.
Thankfully we are not alone in recognizing this opportunity. Many US senators have expressed bipartisan support for the Do Not Track law: Sen. Widen proposed a bill in November 2018, and Sen. Halle introduced the “Don’t Track Act” in May 2019, similar to our proposal, which It is now co-sponsored. By Sen. Feinstein.
The technical work is done, the legal foundation is in place – all we can do now is support our elected representatives who support Do Not Track Legislation to give back control to users. This old idea has finally found its time!
I’m talking a lot on this subject personally, so if you want to learn more, check our law, read my op-ed in the New York Times, listen to this episode of Recode / Decode, or watch my testimony In front of the US Senate.