All of us have opted-in to being tracked for an eternity. This opt-in decision was made for us the moment our parent’s decided to have sex or perhaps even earlier at the time of the Big Bang. Before you completely write this idea off as far fetched, give me a moment to try to explain.
First, I think it is important to understand what we mean we we use the word ‘track.’ I believe when most people say “do not track me,” they are really saying “don’t analyze me.”
Merriam-Webster defines ‘track’ as: detectable evidence (as the wake of a ship, a line of footprints, or a wheel rut) that something has passed.
Regardless of how hard we try, every action we take leaves a track.
When we talk about ‘tracking,’ we are really talking about putting tools in place to amplify this detectable evidence to make the job of the analyst easier. However, a skilled analyst, detective, archeologist, etc. will be able to analyze this evidence regardless of the technology that is in place.
Governments are wasting billions of tax payer dollars to legislate against the laws of physics. Corporations are wasting billions of man hours attempting to do the same. They are giving consumers a false sense of security that if legislation is in place or if browsers have a “do not track” option then no detectable evidence will be left behind. That is not only a silly conclusion but it also violates the basic laws of physics. To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. Every action we take, we leave behind detectable evidence, we can’t fight that fact.
Legislation and new technology can serve to counter act the forces of nature for a given period of time but on a long enough time line, nature will always win. If you disagree with the law of gravity, you can build planes that can fly through the air for longer and longer periods of time but eventually every thing that goes up, must come down.
The technology that analysts use, simply will adapt to the current landscape. Today it is cookies and page tags, yesterday it was web logs, tomorrow it will be something else but let me reiterate, even if these tools of the trade are not in place, the evidence that something has passed is there just waiting to be discovered and analyzed.
So what does this all mean? To me, it means that as someone trusted with this evidence, I must be held to a higher standard. The same is said for anyone in a position to view information that the rest of the world is not privy to. We expect our doctors to hold our patient records in strict confidentiality. When we make a phone call, we expect our cell phone carrier to not abuse the information contained within our conversations. As web analysts, we have been placed in a similar position of trust.
Passing legislation and inventing new technologies to ensure no traceable evidence is left behind is as pointless as spending billions of dollars trying to stop the sun from rising in the East. Rather than fight the unchangeable laws of physics, why not put that time and energy into making sure that those who have been trusted with sensitive evidence treat it with the respect it deserves?
Legislation is pointless. Technology will only produce a false sense of security. Aligning with a Code of Ethics is the only path.