Self-Regulation of Internet Privacy: Guess Who's Happy With the Results?

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Worried about online privacy? Relax. Thanks to a self-regulation deal worked out with the concerned folks at the FTC, the information-gathering practices used by Internet advertisers and marketers to better target ads and promotions to you, the computer user, are now being policed by... Internet advertisers and marketers.

"I think this agreement is terrific," said Josh Isay, spokesman for DoubleClick, the largest Internet advertising network and a major force in the Network Advertising Initiative, which penned the agreement. In other words, whew. Because without some consumer information these firms can dangle in front of companies, the economy of the Internet pretty much grinds to a halt — and the DoubleClicks are the first to go.

Privacy advocates were a little less thrilled. The main beef: Although consumers will now be allowed to opt out of the collection of anonymous data on the Internet for the purpose of profiling, they'll have to exert some effort to do it.

This is known as the "opt in/opt out" debate — advertisers and privacy watchdogs both know that the average computer user generally won't lift their clicking finger to keep profiling information out of advertisers' hands. Which makes them even less likely to "opt in" to information collection.

So advertising firms like DoubleClick (TIME.com's ad agency, incidentally) gave a little to the feds and got exactly what they wanted, which is the government out their hair. As for the rest of us, privacy will have to come at the price of vigorous vigilance.

Unless you'd like the Internet to stop being free.