Tracking Is an Assault on Liberty, With Real Dangers

In a 1963 Supreme Court opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren observed that “the fantastic advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a great danger to the privacy of the individual.” The advances have only accelerated since then, along with the dangers. Today, as companies strive to personalize the services and advertisements they provide over the Internet, the surreptitious collection of personal information is rampant. The very idea of privacy is under threat.

Most of us view personalization and privacy as desirable things, and we understand that enjoying more of one means giving up some of the other. To have goods, services and promotions tailored to our personal circumstances and desires, we need to divulge information about ourselves to corporations, governments or other outsiders.

This tradeoff has always been part of our lives as consumers and citizens. But now, thanks to the Net, we’re losing our ability to understand and control those tradeoffs—to choose, consciously and with awareness of the consequences, what information about ourselves we disclose and what we don’t. Incredibly detailed data about our lives are being harvested from online databases without our awareness, much less our approval.

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