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From Reverie to Reality--for a Moment

I've enjoyed turning my mind toward the Advent season. But, at times our "brave new world" bounces up into my face like a hard-to-conrol rubber ball. So, there goes my mind!

We have a new restaurant in town. Nice location, healthy food, pleasant atmosphere. I purchased a meal there last week and was given a special customer card. With this card, I can have a free 12th meal after buying 11. I can also receive a coupon for a free side dish. All I have to do is register online on their national chain's Web page.

Once I register, they will know: my name, state and zip code, e-mail address, the number of people in my household, my birthday, and whether or not I'm a vegetarian. Not exactly the contents of an FBI file, but to earn the promised discounts, I need to swipe my card in their swiper machine every time I dine. Thinking about that, I had an epiphany (not of a religious sort).

If I register that card and use it at this restaurant, I will be tracked. Hunters track. I don't want to be hunted.

Behavioral tracking used by advertisers and search engines is another form of being hunted that makes me uneasy. In case you were not aware of it, some ENTITY (person, place or thing?) notes and records what you click. After a few clicks, IT will start showing you ads for businesses IT believes will interest you or are in close geographical proximity.

The FTC has proposed a solution for those of us who don't want to be surveilled. You can read a very good, brief article about the FTC's Do Not Track Initiative by Troy Wolverton (Click on Troy's name to read the article. This is a link, even though it's not showing up as one!) at the Merced Sun Star.

Briefly: The FTC wants consumers to have a way to opt-out of having their Web "behavior" tracked by advertisers. As reported by Jackie Jones in Response magazine:

"The FTC initiative promotes the use of the 'Advertising Option Icon,' a button consumers can click on to retrieve information on the company’s online behavioral advertising data collection. As use of the Advertising Option Icon expands, consumers will eventually have the opportunity to visit aboutads.com for additional information and to opt-out of some or all participating companies' online behavioral ads." (Currently, aboutads.com hosts 1800 Contacts.)

Guess who is against this initiative? The Direct Marketing Association. I lost my trust in the DMA when I sent them an Opt-Out notice on behalf of my late father. None of the direct-mail materials addressed to him have stopped coming. He died in 2006.

Yes, we're all busy, but we will pay later for what we don't pay attention to now. This is an important issue about something that can become both pervasive and insidious.

Although the bargain-hunter inside me is pouting, I've decided I don't want to be the one who is hunted in return. I'm passing on that free meal and side dish I'd be eligible for after my tracked and carded lunches. That is too small a price to be paid for the use of my good name.

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