Do not track lists

By | February 19, 2011
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Do not track lists (and browser extensions)
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Window 7

There’s a big brouhaha boiling over do-not-track lists. To make a complex thing simple – it take simple minds like ours to skim off the cream and leave the milk behind  -we’re going to give you nothing but cream:

Do not track (me) is similar to the do-not-call lists you’ve heard about. Supposedly the new Internet Explorer is going to allow you to opt-out of being tracked by evil cookies (as opposed to Christmas cookies) deposited on your computer by evil advertisers who want to know as much about you as they can learn from an evil cookie. These evil cookies are text files downloaded to your computer unbeknownst to you. Of course what most people don’t realize is there are all kinds of things being downloaded to your computer unbeknownst to you – every picture you see on the Web, for example, is being downloaded onto your computer. In fact the web pages you see (for the most part) are downloaded to your computer and you see them from your own computer  – and not the web. If you don’t believe this, just check your temporary internet files folder.

Microsoft is and will be spending zillions of dollars advertising its new Internet Explorer 9 browser – and one of the things it will try to be convince you of is that you need to have this do-not-track thingie so that evil advertising networks can’t track you. And why would they want to track you? Why to find out what you like and what you don’t, that’s why. If you are browsing the web looking for African violets, you might see ads for African violet plant food, flower pots, and other horticultural goodies. See because the evil cookies they place on your cookies (the text file) may show you’ve been to some African violet sites. You don’t want them to know that! Heaven forbid!

What can you do. Well you can download an extension for Google Chrome that lets you opt-out of tracking – or there are several sites (here’s one) you can visit that will let you opt-out of tracking cookies, or you can wait for the next version of Firefox – or you can download Internet Explorer 9 (release candidate).

If you choose “do not track” you won’t have to worry about seeing any ads for flowers, or African violets, or flower pots or anything that may be of interest to you, you’ll see ads for really cool stuff like Cialis, Depends, and Tootsie Rolls – or whatever happens to randomly appear on the sites you visit. In other words, you won’t be opting out of ads, you’ll only be opting out of ads that some chance of being of interest to you.

What’s baffling about all this stuff is this kind of marketing has been going on for years. Do any of you have one of those shopping cards from a grocery store? You know the ones that give you special prices or an extra percentage off certain items. I’m sure a lot of you do. Do you know if you use that card, that store knows everything you’ve bought, when you bought it, and all your shopping habits. Do you think they just use that information for themselves – or do you think some of those coupons you’ve been getting in the mail for some of the products you buy most just appeared coincidentally?

The kind of marketing done on the web is no different from kind of marketing grocery stores, department stores, and magazines have been doing for years. It’s only the fact that a few paranoid fear-mongers have made the situation worse than it is. Really.

As my buddy William Shakespeare once wrote – this is much ado about nothing. If you agree or don’t agree, we wanted you to know that running scared from cookies and opting out of so-called “tracking cookies” only makes it more likely you’ll take your eye off far more malevolent things. Remember: You read it here first.

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