In 2007, consumer groups asked the FTC to come up with a “Do Not Track” list, which would work like the “Do Not Call” list. Naïve Internet researchers then proposed a “Do Not Track” header for the web. The idea was that users would set a preference in their web browser; the browser would then send a “Do Not Track” (DNT) flag each time it fetched a web page. Advertisers would then voluntarily be good and not track the user.
In a surprise to approximately nobody, the industry which brought us pop-up ads and button hijackers and blind redirects has been reluctant to implement DNT. And now, companies including Google and Yahoo are recommending to the FTC that they basically be exempted from it.
I’ve always thought that any privacy measure predicated on good behavior by the advertising industry is basically a complete waste of time. I don’t bother with DNT; instead, I use the EFF’s Privacy Badger, which blocks trackers — and ads which attempt to track you. Mozilla is now experimenting with building similar functionality into Firefox. If you want to see what your browser blocks vs what it allows, Privacy Analyzer will run tests and report.
Meanwhile, the podcast Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything has been running a series of shows called The Dislike Club, focused on everything that’s horrible about today’s Internet. One of those things is the fact that we’ve built a commercial Internet based around the business model of advertising things to people, and then responded to advertiser demands by making user tracking more and more invasive in order to increase the perceived value of the ads. At the same time, we’ve moved more and more of our content into walled silos like Facebook, and become beholden to the same corporate entities who are tracking us.
As you’ve probably noticed, I’m refusing to follow that business model. I own my own site, I pay for it myself, and no advertiser has any say over what I post. And while I post occasional articles to proprietary social networks, I don’t feed everything to the corporate maw. That’s why if you want to subscribe, you need to find yourself a web feed reading service, also known as a feed reader or agregator, and sometimes as a news reader.
Once upon a time sites like Facebook and LiveJournal would let you use their sites to read web feeds, or read their content as a web feed. Even Google had a feed reader. But in the quest to increase the value of their product — the captive user base — and force you to go back to their site so they could show you more ads, Facebook and Google and Twitter all deprecated open standard web feeds for social content, and then deliberately killed them off.
But they still exist elsewhere. There are Feedreader, Feedly, Digg Reader, Newsblur and other web-based services. There are desktop applications like Vienna, RSSOwl, ReadKit and many more. If you’re sick of being tracked and advertised at, pick one of them and start using it. Set up your own site where you can own your own content. Rejoin the open web.