I’ve been reading The Wall Street Journal‘s interesting investigative series into online privacy, “What They Know,” and it’s more than a little disturbing. Technology seems to have run amok, and perhaps we should catch up to it and put the brakes on. Consider one of the findings by the WSJ investigative team: Looking at the 50 most popular U.S. Web sites, the team found that most of the sites were placing intrusive tracking applications on their visitors’ computers—in some instances more than 100 at a time. “It’s totally anonymous, we don’t collect people’s names,” say these sites and tracking technology vendors. But the fact is, they collect an amazing amount of data on us, and taking names is probably one or two steps away. Today’s installment talks about stalkers exploiting cellphone tracking technology to find their victims. Where does PR fit in to this? Well, collecting information on peoples’ Web surfing and buying habits—as well as geo-location techniques—fall into the marketing category, and as we all know, the line between marketing and PR is blurring. Do you think we’re going too far with these tracking tools, and should there be some regulation to stop it?
–Scott Van Camp