Personal information regarding what people look at and buy on the Internet is a hot marketing tool, and many Web sites, including Amazon.com, sell the demographic information they acquire from their customers to other companies. By buying this proffered information, advertisers can target specific consumers based on their interests, reducing marketing costs. This is a sneaky practice that leaves the consumer without any sense of anonymity. The problem is that many people have no idea that a third party is tracking their online activity.
The World Wide Web Consortium is a nonprofit organization that sets standards for Internet technology and is currently developing a Platform for Privacy Practices. This platform would affect the language used in privacy statements, specifics in negotiations between the consumer and the Web site regarding privacy statements, and would create a specific standard for storing personal information. This would be a great aid to consumers who wish to safe guard their personal information.
There are two general ways these various Web pages keep track of consumer information: The first is by using “cookies” on their sites to track what consumers click on. Cookies can be turned off, so if Web users go on a Web site with cookies, it will not be able to access consumer information. Most consumers are unaware, however, that they have any control at all. Another tracking method is with “Web bugs,” which are more deceitful in nature, as they cannot be filtered out by Web browsers like cookies can. Furthermore, there are some Web sites that will not allow users access to their page when cookies are turned off.
Each time a Web page is accessed with a Web bug, a message is sent to the server describing who and where the consumer is. This might not seem like a huge deal to some, but knowing what certain individuals read can give an advertiser a lot of personal information about them. This practice could potentially create more serious problems if this information was to fall into the wrong hands, especially in the instance of a political figure or celebrity. The Internet is a way to get information, and some people want to get it anonymously. Many people use it when information is needed on a subject which they would feel uncomfortable going to someone about. This tracking of personal information is a violation of a citizen’s privacy.
As far as average consumers go, they will have trouble whether or not they present personal information online if they intend to buy anything on the Web. If a consumer wishes to buy something over the Web, personal information is required in order to purchase and receive the product. But if the personal information is given, it is considered the company’s own to be used as it wishes Thus, in this age of technology proliferation, withholding certain information is often not an option.