Though some may like to believe that the age of privacy is dead, recent developments in Do Not Track browser options would suggest otherwise.
Microsoft recently announced a new feature for Internet Explorer 9, called Tracking Protection Lists, enabling consumers to limit the data third-party sites can collect about them. Yesterday, Mozilla announced they will incorporate a Do Not Track header into the upcoming Firefox 4.1, which would essentially notify each website the user visits that they want to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking. And Google just made a new Chrome extension available called Keep My Opt-Outs, which permanently opts your browser out of online ad personalization via cookies.
While these efforts are underway for our browsers, tools are also being developed for our social networks. WSJ just covered a new tool called uProtect.it, whose tagline is “Protection from Facebook on Facebook.” The free app encrypts your comments and posts, making them inaccessible to unwanted viewers, including Facebook itself.
This flurry of recent activity indicates a larger trend:
People may finally be ready to demand intuitive privacy settings, ownership of personal data, and opt-out rather than opt-in as a default.
While many would argue that openness and transparency are a good thing, it should be at an individual’s discretion to decide how public they want to be, and to have control over who gets to see what. In that positive vision of the future, we’re able to choose how we share and exchange information on a peer to peer level, and actually create value together, instead of having it extracted from us.
If that battle is lost, the web may continue to devolve into a playground for advertisers, embedded with increasingly fine-tuned mechanisms to exploit our preferences, behaviors, and social graph.
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Venessa Miemis is a Media Studies graduate student at the New School in NYC, exploring what happens at the intersection of technology, culture, and communication. Connect with her at www.emergentbydesign.com and on Twitter @venessamiemis.