Remember the names ValueClick and 33 Across, because they are behind in part the mean-spirited smear campaign against protecting our privacy on the Internet. They have helped launched a special interest, closed-door, inside the Beltway campaign to derail Do-Not-Track (DNT). Do Not Track could help stop some of the outrageous spying on Internet users that occurs whenever we go online, from websites, to social media and mobile devices. But allowing consumers to make their own decisions about whether they wish to be tracked upsets the business practices of these companies and their supporters, who reap the rewards of placing and selling "cookies" and other identifiers that are stealthily placed in our browser or device. Rather than allowing a person to better control their privacy, these companies have asked a few members of Congress to attack the concept of privacy, the role of the Federal Trade Commission as a consumer protection agency, and the group that helps create how the Internet operates--Tim Berners-Lee's Worldwide Web Consortium.
Valueclick and 33 Across and other companies engaged in the "Big Data" grab of our information spun a story to a few House members who then sent letters designed to chill the FTC's work supporting the DNT standard. Among the accusations they apparently told their incredibly naive or anti-consumer privacy Hill supporters, was that protecting privacy via a Do Not Track system would somehow harm the economic health of the web (instead of admitting that DNT could permit a user to decide they don't want to be secretly tracked by bottom-feeding data companies, helping boost consumer confidence with e-commerce); that the FTC has no authority to help work out a DNT standard (ignoring the years of work the FTC has put in to protect consumer privacy, esp. online); and that---get this--the FTC was helping an a "international" organization control the Internet (conveniently forgetting that the Berners-Lee's group makes the standards which helps the Internet run in the first place).
These companies are placing their own economic interest ahead of tens of millions of Internet users. They are disparaging privacy and the right of a consumer to control who can access and sell their own information. You should remember the names of these companies as you make choices about your online activity. No doubt as the campaign for privacy builds and major brands are asked at shareholder meetings to act responsibly on the issue, companies running afoul of protecting our data will be identified.
One question we should all ask are where are those defenders of global Internet freedom Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc? They are long-standing members of Berners-Lee organization, working on DNT as well. Why are they silent as McCarthyite tactics are used by a few House members, given their talking points by a few online data companies. Is it because they too support killing off Do Not Track? Or are intimidated and don't want to spoil cozy relations with industry partners? Google especially is being hypocritical here, because it cries "protect global Internet freedom" all the time. But they are the biggest online data broker of them all. So we await to see if these companies have the courage and the moral compass to speak up and call out those members of Congress and a tiny handful of data companies more interested in their own bottom line instead of how we are treated online. The two House letters are attached, as well as one CDD, EFF and Consumer Watchdog sent to the FTC last week. More to come.