By at least one account, Google has withdrawn from the finger-pointing game of who’s responsible for making consumer privacy vulnerable and acknowledged the plea of consumers that say, “Hey, seriously, we really don’t want you following us everywhere we go on the internet.” Following this week’s scandal that Google was circumventing privacy settings on both Safari and Internet Explorer in order to continue tracking and logging the browsing information of people, the company has now said that it will implement a “Do Not Track” button in its web browser, Chrome.
Google’s decision to include the “Do Not Track” button wasn’t a completely independent change of heart, though. The move is part of a larger concert involving other tech giants like Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL to adhere to President Obama’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, a new regulation that aims to enhance the amount of control people have with how their personal info is collected. The Wall Street Journal details seven ways in which the Privacy Bill of Rights will work, such as restoring individual control of information to consumers and improving transparency in companies’ policies. However, the Privacy Bill of Rights still permits companies to collect information from people – it just might not get used in the same way.
The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.
Curiously, the “Do Not Track” button will not affect the way Facebook tracks user information via the “Like” button that you seen on virtually every website these days.
Google championed itself today for agreeing to the terms of the Obama Administration’s initiative. In a statement released today, Google Senior Vice President of Advertising Susan Wojcicki said, “We’re pleased to join a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘do-not-track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”
At this point, Google is assuming the defense of the holy fool by acting as if it is news that people might not want all of their browsing habits tracked, indexed, and then distributed back to them in various commercial ways. The fact remains that users of both Safari and Internet Explorer had already selected a privacy option to not be tracked by websites yet, because there was a way around it, Google assumed its manifest destiny to chase after the users’ information anyways. Google’s saccharine agreement to offer a “Do Not Track” button on Chrome is less meaningful than it is conciliatory to remedy a bad public relations week.
In short, it shouldn’t have had come to this. People selecting an option to prevent websites from following them, regardless of how outdated the security feature is, should not be regarded by a company as Google as a challenge to be overcome; it should be regarded as a clear indication that people don’t want companies following them, period.