ADOTAS – Today, internet and mobile security software provider AVG Technologies announced the inclusion of an active “Do Not Track” feature in the latest version of its anti-virus/online security products. It’s good timing — just yesterday, the FTC released a lengthy report on consumer privacy, which, while acknowledging “significant progress” among browser vendors and organizations such as the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) in implementing Do Not Track features, stated, “the work is not done,” and called for the creation of “an easy-to use, persistent, and effective Do Not Track system.” AVG’s product launch itself isn’t necessarily a direct answer to the FTC’s report — after all, AVG’s offering a feature on a product, albeit a popular one, while the FTC is calling for something more like an industry-wide standard — but it does speak to some of the key issues. While the user has to manually turn on the “Do Not Track” feature provided by a lot of browsers, AVG’s comes turned on by default (the user can shut it off, or adjust it to his or her specifications), and it allows for both more common passive blocking of tracking, which the data-collecting website can either respect or choose to ignore, and less common active blocking, wherein the user’s device is blocked from sending its data to networks or services whose privacy policies seem less than secure and transparent.
AVG CEO JR Smith is quick to assert that when it comes to which entities on the web are following users from site to site, there’s probably not a whole lot people really should be worried about. “There’s not a ton of troubling behavior,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “The first evolution of the product is looking at ad networks, what they do with your data.” And that’s benign enough, but the issue is that most people aren’t aware the internet works this way, and it can be surprising to some people to realize where their data goes and who wants it.
According to Smith, AVG is aiming not to inhibit ad networks from learning insights about potential consumers, but in “educating people that what they do out there is public. We give them the tool to make the choice. I don’t think there’s anything devastating from being tracked.” But users might think, he said, “‘If they are [sharing my information], I want to know.” With AVG’s Do Not Track offering, he said, users “can go into the setup and modify it how you see fit,” selecting the kinds of entities with which they’re comfortable sharing their information.
“There are hundreds of ad networks, and the percentage of offenders is very small,” Smith insisted. But his company had considered, he said, “How can we incentivize and get people to use this product, they’re not going to pass along malware?” Indeed, what a user drops and picks up around the internet affects not just his or her own device, but all kinds of websites as well. And so, Smith said, AVG is in a good place to consider both user and publisher concerns. “We’re a security company and we have a huge user base,” he said. “It’s a good way to increase awareness.”