Online Marketers Joining Internet Privacy Efforts

Most consumers are familiar with do-not-call lists, which are meant to keep telemarketers from phoning them. Soon people will be able to sign up for do-not-track lists, which will help shield their Web surfing habits from the prying eyes of marketers.

Such lists will not reduce the number of ads that people see online, but they will prevent advertisers from using their online meanderings to deliver specific ad pitches to them.

Today the AOL division of Time Warner will announce a service of this type, which will be up and running by the end of the year. Other programs are likely to be articulated soon, as online advertisers prepare for a two-day forum on privacy to be held by the Federal Trade Commission.

AOL says it is setting up a new Web site that will link consumers directly to opt-out lists run by the largest advertising networks. The site’s technology will ensure that people’s preferences are not erased later.

{It is very welcome news that AOL and other commercial websites will soon let consumers opt-out of online advertising and data collection by advertisers. This service is desperately needed for health-related websites that track and sell personal data on our interest in specific diseases, medications, and treatments. Today nothing—no law or regulation—prevents any website from using and selling information about our health searches. Microsoft’s HealthVault is the first health website we know of that explicitly states that search data will not be sold or shared, and that search data will be totally deleted in 90 days. The egregious industry-wide practice of stealing personal data about health interests and searches is very exploitive. People who are scared about being sick themselves or want to learn about an illness or treatment options for someone close are being taken advantage of when they are vulnerable. When health information is collected and linked with all other financial and commercial information being collected about us, we have NO privacy. Private corporations, employers, government agencies, and even political parties can and will use health records and health searches to discriminate against us or target us. ~ Dr. Deborah Peel}

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