Five years ago, privacy advocates asked the Federal Trade Commission to back a do-not-track system that would allow people to opt out once and for all from online behavioral targeting.
The FTC did so, and the major browser manufacturers responded by offering (or promising to offer) a do-not-track header that, when turned on, sends a signal that users don't want to be tracked. But the ad industry is still struggling to figure out how to implement do-not-track.
One of the major unresolved points is whether ad networks and publishers should stop collecting data from people with an active do-not-track setting, or only stop serving those people targeted ads. A meeting in Amsterdam last week didn't come close to producing agreement between the ad industry and privacy advocates on that point.
While the ad industry, computer scientists and privacy advocates duke it out, one question that hasn't received much attention is what consumers think. This week, the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology said it had recently surveyed consumers about that point. The first finding is that the vast majority of consumers -- 87% of around 1,200 respondents -- hadn't heard of the do-not-track proposals now on the table. (That's probably not surprising, given that turning on do-not-track won't mean very much until there are standards for implementing it.)
But when researchers followed up by asking consumers what they wanted do-not-track to accomplish, 60% said they would want web sites to stop collecting information from them, while 20% said they would want to stop all ads. Only 14% said they wanted do-not-track to stop receiving ads that were targeted based on their prior Web surfing activity.
The report concludes: "We found that most consumers want Do Not Track to mean exactly that: do not collect information that allows companies to track them across the Internet."