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Online Data Privacy and Do Not Track: One Web Developer’s Perspective

I value my privacy and my security; they’re important to me.

But since I’m online, you may argue, I should expect neither of those. I respectfully disagree.

Sure, incursions have been made. My data has been mined and sold without my prior, express permission or knowledge many times over, but that’s no reason to become ambivalent. That’s merely a convenience response: a justification to support the c’est la vie way of thinking that concedes there’s nothing anyone concerned can do about the disagreeable situation at hand.

Our attitude ought to be much more laissez-faire where the individual, as the basic unit of society, enjoys the liberty to be left alone and to conduct transactions unencumbered by government… or other individuals.

Yet marketers are wildly successful in their efforts to monetize the online activity of individuals, while government watches from the bleachers. That’s why the “Do Not Track” (DNT) HTTP header field, envisioned as the clarion call to be left alone (or at least to be left un-tracked), is for the moment well nigh worthless.

All modern browsers support DNT. And most online operators freely ignore it. They say so in their privacy policies. Or, they pretend it doesn’t exist when they fail to mention it. Absent any legal teeth, DNT has little practical value apart from those willing, but not forced, to adhere to it. It’s easy to forget what it’s designed to do and just say, “C’est la vie” to DNT.

But I hope you won’t do that.

As a front end engineer (who also enjoys sinking his claws into the back end), I find myself knee deep in an industry that pays little more than lip service to online privacy. I can’t change the industry, but I can set a pattern. I can show I care about privacy. Yours and mine. That’s why I openly disclose whether your browser sends DNT; and that’s why, when you do send it, I’ll honor the intent and disable analytics tracking.

I’m not selling anything on these pages except myself, and I don’t want to erode your trust. I also refuse to take advantage of your possible indifference. Whether you appreciate it or not—whether you care or not—I will not track you just because I so easily can. The entire industry ought to adopt this approach. When the pitch is honorable, you’re more inclined to consider the offer, if for no other reason than it flies in the face of the market-driven, track-you-at-all-costs status quo.

Bruce Schneier expresses it like this:

For if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that—either now or in the uncertain future—patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.

For my part, I will not contribute to the problem. If you’re also in the industry, in any capacity, I urge you to consider your own views toward preserving online privacy. And if you really don’t care, just ask your customers, clients and visitors what they prefer. Naturally, they could install tools to prevent you tracking them.

But why should they have to?