On April 2, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is in hot water with government regulators in six European countries over its practice of tracking users’ movements across the web to sell targeted advertising. The kerfuffle illustrates the bind that the world finds itself in over tracking — the collection and sharing of data on users’ browsing habits to help sites offer personalized content such as ads or recommendations.
On one hand, tracking has become a backbone of the Internet’s advertising ecosystem and is understood by most Internet users to be a necessary evil in exchange for a richer, more convenient online experience. (Do people really want to fill out purchasing forms on Amazon.com every time they order a book?)
On the other hand, cookies and other tracking mechanisms continue to raise hot-button issues about privacy as companies get ever-more creative and aggressive in their tactics and find ways to defeat a growing raft of anti-tracking technologies.