Future of Privacy Forum Letter to the Editor of the NYTimes: "Tracking Consumers Online: Make It Transparent"


The following piece was published on the New York Times website on October 8, 2009

Tracking Consumers Online: Make It Transparent

To the Editor:

Re “Tracked for Ads? Many Americans Say No Thanks” (Business Day, Sept. 30):

As your article suggests, there’s little doubt that consumers will object to behavioral advertising when they feel it is being done to them instead of for them.

So what can responsible companies do online? For starters, they can take the advice of Prof. Joseph Turow, the lead author of the study of attitudes toward online tracking, and help consumers “feel they have control over the data that marketers collect about them.”

This means clearly letting consumers know what is going on at a Web site, not hiding the information in a privacy policy that isn’t usually read. It means giving consumers real choices about the collection and use of their data. It also means showing consumers the profiles that are created and then deleting the old data on a regular basis.

The only way to turn around the online advertising debate is to provide users with real transparency and control. Why wait for Congress or regulators to mandate a solution?

Jules Polonetsky
Christopher Wolf
Washington, Sept. 30, 2009

The writers are co-chairmen of the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank that focuses on consumer privacy issues.