Even Mozilla sees holes in online privacy discussion

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Legislation alone won't safeguard consumers' privacy online, said Mozilla Foundation chairwoman Mitchell Baker in an interview with Fast Company. Baker said “it's hard to imagine” a bill that online companies could implement.

"Even if you had the perfect regulation today, without the technology to implement it, it will be imperfect tomorrow,” she said.

But as I've mentioned before, we don't have the perfect technology yet. Last month, Mozilla debuted a Do Not Track mechanism for its mobile browser, a companion to the organization's desktop version. Problem is, both mechanisms rely on advertisers complying with consumers' opt-out preferences.

So not only do we have imperfect regulation but also imperfect technology. Enter industry. Self-regulatory programs have been taking a beating and for good reason. The CEO of online advertising compliance provider Evidon, Scott Meyer, told the Wall Street Journal that less than 10% of behaviorally targeted ads feature icons that link to information about the targeting process and an opt-out form. Little wonder why Congress and consumer advocates are turning to the Federal Trade Commission for a more aggressive approach.

For good reason, the advertising industry is concerned with the pending privacy legislation and wave of browser-based Do Not Track tools. However, since both the legislation and the technology come equipped with significant obstacles to application, the industry needs to take advantage of the opportunity, enlisting more big-name marketers to not only adopt the icons but promote their adoption.

Given all the recent privacy breaches and ensuring cover-ups that only further alienate consumers from companies, now is the perfect time for transparency. Most consumers are aware of behavioral tracking but would prefer to know the exact tracking taking place. If advertisers lay their cards on the table, they'll not only be able to keep their tracking but earn consumer trust (read: loyalty). Chrysler took an important step in that direction. Who's next?

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