Already, 70 percent of Web users are aware that their Internet footsteps may be tracked for advertising, according to a TrustE survey cited by CNET. Yet just 23 percent are comfortable with such online tracking, even if companies agree not to share the information.
“There is a difference between going to a site that you know will be including advertising and going to an ISP who you expect to be a simple carrier,” she says. People can easily choose whether or not to use Google sites, but it’s much more difficult to switch ISPs.
In many cases, these ISP targeted ad initiatives are “opt-out,” meaning that the company automatically enrolls users. If people want out, they have to ask to be removed.
While European activists and legislators are up in arms about British Telecom’s questionable definition of user rights, legal professionals say laws in the United States are much less restrictive.
The European Union explicitly requires an “opt-in” on the part of users, so British Telecom likely will have to change their policy. Not so for American ISPs.
The US has “a very market-driven, capitalistic approach,” says Leslie Reis of the Center for Internet Technology and Privacy Law at the John Marshal Law School in Chicago. “The US takes a mishmash approach to privacy. There are a lot of interests and a lot of lobbyists on the commercial side involved.”