Co-authored by Arvind Narayanan.
Debates over web tracking and Do Not Track tend to be framed as a clash between consumer privacy and business need. That’s not quite right. There is, in fact, a spectrum of possible tradeoffs between business interests and consumer privacy.
Our aim with the Tracking Not Required series is to show how those tradeoffs are not at all linear; it is possible to swap a little functionality for a lot of privacy. We only use technologies that are already deployed in browsers, and the solutions we propose are externally verifiable.1
We focus on issues at the center of Do Not Track negotiations in the World Wide Web Consortium. Advertising companies have pledged to stop forms of ad targeting once a user enables Do Not Track, but many maintain that tracking is essential for a litany of “operational uses.” The Tracking Not Required series demonstrates how business functionality can be implemented without exposing users to the risks of tracking.
This first post addresses frequency capping in online advertising, the most frequently cited “operational use” necessitating tracking.