(WXYZ) - There's a digital dilemma brewing right now about your privacy online. You may have heard of "Do Not Track" or seen new privacy options on your internet browser and even on web ads. But what does it all mean and how much is your privacy really protected? We have the answers.
Online shopper Mario Almonte was shocked the first time he surfed the web for a certain product and then saw an ad for the very same thing pop up on a different website!
"I suddenly felt like I was being followed, like you're in a dark alley," says online shopper Mario Almonte.
Experts say he's right. Consumers are quietly being followed, even targeted, when they browse online. This specialized software lets you see for yourself how you're being tracked while you surf the web.
"That's being stored and sold and shared among hundreds of different companies," says privacy analyst Sarah Downey.
The Federal Trade Commission is pushing to give consumers greater control by creating a "Do Not Track" system. It's goal is to allow you to opt out of online tracking with the click of a button. The problem is, right now what "Do Not Track" means is still being debated.
"What the FTC has said that do not track should mean that information
about where you go on the net is not collected by third parties with narrow
exceptions for things like ensuring security," says Dr. Edward Felten, PhD., FTC.
But the FTC says some digital companies want "Do Not Track" to mean consumers can just "opt out" of receiving targeted ads, but not of data collection.
"If your business model depends on tracking people online then obviously
you'd like that to be able to continue," says Felton.
The Direct Marketing Association says it has to collect some anonymous data to help improve how the web works, and also use it for analytics and market research.
"That's not for targeting, it's for if you're a rent a car company and you're
getting a lot of clicks from a particular area you might want to open up a
new rental car agency in that area," says Linda Woolley of the Direct Marketing Association.
The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) recently unveiled its "self regulated" opt out program. You just click on a little icon on behaviorally targeted ads and you can choose not to get them. But before you do that, keep in mind you'll still see ads. They just won't be for items you have searched recently.
"Most consumers don't want random ads about things they're not interested in," says Woolley.
Some web browsers offer new privacy settings which signal to companies you don't want to be tracked. Almonte's giving it a try because, until it's all figured out, he sees it as one way to try and protect his privacy.
"I don't want them following me," says Almonte.
Right now the "Do Not Track" features on internet browsers are voluntary for companies to follow. Though members of the Digital Advertising Alliance pledge not to track you if you initiate it. The FTC released a final report on its recommendations for a Do Not Track system. It says if companies adopt them, a system will be in place by the end of the year. Digital advertisers and the world wide web consortium expect some sort of agreement can be hammered out by then. If it doesn't happen, lawmakers may have to pass legislation.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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