It turns out most people believe tracking your behavior on the web isn't allowed and don't want it. Furthermore they don't realize they can request to opt out of it in many browsers (not that doing so matters as that is optional for those who are doing the tracking).
The majority of Americans surveyed by researchers at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, which is part of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, do not want information collected at all about which Web sites they visit, according to the stud, which is to be released at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference on Monday.
Most of them said they did not find online advertisements useful. And nearly 90 percent said they had never heard of a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission, known as a “do not track” mechanism, that would let users opt out of having their personal data collected for the purposes of serving tailored advertisements.
And the study the Times article refers to (pdf). Non-technical and worth reading. From the conclusion:
We found that most consumers want Do Not Track to mean
exactly that: do not collect information that allows companies
to track them across the Internet. This may seem obvious,
but even the definition articulated by the FTC may fall short
of these consumer expectations. Further, advertising
industry groups presently are lobbying for a different
interpretation that would allow pervasive tracking and use of
information derived from online experiences, even if the
consumer opts out.
This disconnect appears pervasive and strong. In addition to
the fact that a strong majority of respondents prefer that Do
Not Track allow them to opt out of collection, there is a lack
of understanding about what trackers can do. We found that
only about 1 in 3 internet users understands that advertisers
can track them on medical sites. Here too, despite broad
consensus that medical information is especially sensitive
and despite widespread consumer ignorance of the rules
governing the collection and use of behavioral tracking on
medical websites, advertising lobbying groups have stuck to a
“notice and no choice” approach. Their self-imposed rules
appear to allow tracking of individuals as they engage with
some of the most sensitive topics in their lives, even if those
individuals attempt to opt out of the tracking.
Consumers and advertisers seem to be at an impasse on
privacy. This impasse is the product of consumers' anxiety
about tracking, and advertisers' concern that any imposition
upon data collection will undermine an existing and growing
business model. Subjectively at least, nearly 70% of
consumers say that they find little if any value in online ads.
Half claim to never click on ads at all. Yet advertisers’
position on tracking is that consumers should be tracked even
if they opt out of tracking, suggesting that consumers'
subjective opinions about tracking do not matter.
Lost in the present debate is the fact that DNT essentially
responds to a specific business model, one in which third
parties attempt to build advertising value by tracking
individuals in all aspects of their lives. This model seems to
require continually ratcheting up data collection and
ratcheting down privacy protections in an attempt to show
value to ad buyers.
Targeting consumers based upon specific information about
them appears to be increasing across a variety of internet and
mobile marketing models, with an apparent goal of linking
online and offline purchase behavior. In previous work, we
have explored mobile payments models that promise to
connect more payments ecosystem players with detailed
“Level 3” purchase data (lists of the specific things consumers
buy) for individual consumers shopping at bricks-and-mortar
stores and mobile app models that use app users’ address
books to target offers.52 And as this paper was being
prepared, for example, newspapers reported that Facebook
was beginning to buy data on Facebook users’ specific
purchases in CVS drugstores in order to show whether
targeted ads served to individual profiles actually resulted in
increased sales of the advertised products.53 As another
example, a different recently announced Facebook scheme
allows retailers to match their offline marketing lists with
Facebook's databases in order to target ads to specific
Some of these models threaten to seriously undermine
privacy expectations and echo models that prompted
backlash and regulation in the past.55 If present trends
continue, we will soon find ourselves in a world where ultralarge
tracking platforms will have data about almost all
online and offline consumer transactional behavior.
Consumers will find themselves subject to these platforms'
power to collect and use that data, and with little recourse or
say about that collection and use.
For what its worth I've been weaning myself of products from companies whose main product is not aimed at the end user. These companies sell my behavior to interested parties who are generally interested in selling me things or for building more detailed information bases. It is disturbing being "the product"
For a search engine I've been using DuckDuckGo about 90% of the time and find it is much less obtrusive. For browsers I use Safari and Firefox, have "do not track" turned on and flush my cookies and cache after every session. I'm weaning myself from Google, but do admit it is the best search engine. But none of the other features other than some occasional map use (I'm finding Nokia's maps are better, although the interface is not very good). I have a Facebook account, but haven't been on in about three months and mostly use it as a Christmas Card list. .. and so on. Certainly one can't free themselves totally from these things, but one can minimize the impact.