by leah on February 19, 2011
One of my classes this semester is Persuasion. In one of my readings this week, we learned about the components of fear appeals. I found this interesting:
“People may choose to perform the adaptive behavior (e.g., use condoms) if perceived response efficacy (e.g., “condoms are effective protectors against AIDS”) and perceived self-efficacy (e.g., “I’m able to use condoms to effectively pervent AIDS”) are greater than response costs (e.g., time, expense, difficulty).” – Kim Witte, Reconciling Fear Appeals, p. 335
This reminded me of a really fascinating and hilarious TED Talk by ELizabeth Pisani, which deconstructed the idea that people act irrationally when not protecting themselves against HIV. In it, she explains that people actually are very rational if you understand the important motivations and limitations in their lives. Check it out:
by leah on November 12, 2010
Imagine if, in the middle of your online search for a great new book, your favorite Internet superstore sent you a message asking you to please store a personal file of information for them about some of the things you do online. Also, they ask that you update that file every now and then with more information about you and your interests. Finally, they warn you that random people might occasionally look at parts of your file. Would you say yes?
Of course not. However, most people are, in fact, offering this freely to the companies they visit online, advertising agencies, and other third parties every time they browse the web. Websites regularly store small text files called “cookies” on your computer to track a lot of information about you, including the sites you visit, your usernames and search terms, and everything you click on.
These files allow companies to make very accurate guesses about who you are and your consumer habits. And as consumers have started to worry about their privacy and learn ways to erase and block cookies, website designers have responded with new tools like Flash cookies, which are more difficult to remove.
Don’t get me wrong – cookies are not necessarily bad, they’re just abused. In fact, they are an important part of the modern web. Cookies enable websites to provide an improved personalized experience for consumers and allow users to customize their online experience by storing information. They are so common today that almost all websites use them and we frequently expect many of their features – for example, shopping carts require cookies.
This system is clearly flawed, however, if companies are relying on consumer ignorance of arcane browser technologies to quietly track users. We need regulations that enable consumers to understand and control the information that companies and advertisers can access. Users should be able to approve some online customization while also protecting their privacy.
According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Stage Set for Showdown on Online Privacy,” a national “do not track” list may be forthcoming due to renewed interest from the Commerce Department, the Federal Trade Commission, Congress, and the White House. “Do not track” is meant to be similar to our national “do not call” list, but it is directed at online privacy and may enable you to prevent companies and advertisers from tracking you and your information online.
Based on the popularity among voters of the “do not call” list, some kind of “do not track” policy is very likely. However, “do not track” would not be as simple as just signing up for a list like “do not call” was – there probably would not even be a list. Most likely, “do not track” would likely need to be a plug-in or special cookie that users could download – some have even suggested a special “do not track” browser.
More importantly, measuring effectiveness would be much more difficult. Would “do not track” features totally stop companies from tracking you, or would it just stop them from putting cookies on your computer to customize advertising?
Online privacy protections are obviously controversial. Companies and trade associations understandably fear strong regulations on such a lucrative business as online advertising. Google, for example, makes most of their famed billions from exactly this type of online advertising and tracking.
According to the Times article, the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce Department are about to release conflicting online privacy reports and recommendations. The FTC, which has historically been a strong consumer rights advocate, has stated that they will explore “a do-not-track mechanism that’s more comprehensive and easier to use than the procedures currently available.”
The Commerce Department, which has usually taken a strong pro-business stance, started its study six months after the FTC announced it had begun a study, and is likely to sidestep a “do not track” policy and propose voluntary measures much like the privacy policies that many of us ignore on websites today. The FTC’s approach is far more likely to appease privacy advocates, many of whom argue that our information belongs to us, so we should be enabled to control who has access to it.
Many of us are likely to find ourselves somewhere in between industry and privacy advocates. As a blogger, I worry less about privacy than many, and I’m inclined to allow some companies, like Google, make money off of me through advertising since I use so many of their free services. However, I believe we should be able to choose who can track us and to what degree. Hopefully, consumers will gain some of these controls.
- EFF: Professor Ed Felten Becomes the FTC’s First Chief Technologist
- EFF: New Cookie Technologies: Harder to See and Remove, Widely Used to Track You
- EFF: How Online Tracking Companies Know Most of What You Do Online