Web-User Tracking

New policies that prevent online tracking are being considered

7 March 2011

Several countries are considering new policies to give individuals more control over the information that Web sites collect and share about them. In November, the European Union announced plans for updating its privacy regulations to give consumers more control over online tracking. And in December, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission proposed a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would let people prevent Web sites from sharing details about their online activities.

Critics of tracking are concerned that companies can record users’ online activities, often without their knowledge. Others say tracking is necessary because it helps keep Web sites cost-free; advertisers pay for the information gathered about users’ browsing or purchases so they then can run targeted ads.

Do you think a Do Not Track mechanism should be imposed? Are tracking services helpful, invasive, or necessary evils?

Responses to December's Question
Smart-Grid Speed Bumps

Proponents of the smart grid point out that because smart meters could allow customers to find out how much energy they’re using, they could lower their electricity bills by turning off power-hungry appliances or use them at off-peak times. But that good news could come with a rate increase. The Maryland Public Service Commission in June rejected an increase sought by Baltimore Gas and Electric to pay for the installation of smart meters and a new communications network, and other states have taken a similar stance.

Would you be willing to help pay for the smart grid in your community? Do the proposed benefits of smart meters outweigh the costs?

Cloudy Charges
I’m willing to pay a one-time charge and avoid a recurring fee, but the articles on the smart grid in The Institute [December] are chock-full of wispy proposals, making the payback less than clear.

Don’t tell me my electric car—or any other home-based power source—is going to feed power back into the grid and make me money. My electric bill is already unreadable and loaded with opaque charges that the state government approved without asking customers. I’m guessing the coming smart-grid charges will be imposed the same way.

John Steve
Caledonia, Mich.

Bad Move
I would be leery of any move by power companies to promote energy conservation. Back in the 1980s, Public Service of New Hampshire was so successful at getting its customers to conserve energy that it later went to the Public Utilities Commission and obtained a rate increase to offset lost revenues due to reduced electricity consumption. So in the end, consumers did not reduce their bills. If the power companies want a smart grid, let them pay for it.

Nick Maselli
Beverly Hills, Fla.

Not a Dime more
I would not want to pay for it unless there were more customer involvement and tangible benefits. We cannot even obtain real-time feedback now from our smart meter—only via a clumsy Web site and with a whole day of delay. Where I live, many opportunities were blown by rolling the meters out too early. I can assure you that there is zero willingness in my neighborhood to pay even one dime extra, despite the fact that a lot of engineers live here.

Joerg Schulze-Clewing
Cameron Park, Calif.

Lack of Privacy
I am unwilling to pay for a smart grid in my community. It is questionable whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Smart grids can intrude on customers’ privacy. If individual appliances are addressable, usage can be determined and lifestyle patterns deduced. Because some patterns represent unlawful conduct, such as the load cycle for lamps used to grow marijuana indoors, it is unlikely this information will be kept from government agencies. Based on past experience, access to such private data will be expanded.

Mark W. Bailey
Round Lake Beach, Ill.

Willing to Upgrade
As technology has matured, the time has come to enable finer measurement and control over electricity use. Consumers will benefit from more reliability. However, I don’t think consumers will pay much attention to smart meters that indicate the power consumption of various appliances, and they will complain about the cost of installing meters. At most, I would pay US $100 for installation.

R.A. Dehn
Schenectady, N.Y.

Not Going to Happen
I am more than willing to pay reasonable increases to advance the grid, but considering the fact that there has been little improvement in the grid infrastructure since the Northeast blackout of 2003, it’s not going to happen. We need the people who have the means to pay more to build the power plants and new lines.

Alan Jennings
Dayton, Ohio

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