Digital tracking: Same concept, Different Era

Meibo Chen, MJLST Staffer

The term “paper trail” continues to become more anachronistic in today’s world as time goes on.  While there are some people who still prefer the traditional old-fashioned pen and paper, our modern world has endowed us with technologies like computers and smartphones.  Whether we like it or not, this digital explosion is slowly consuming and taking over the lives of the average American (73% of US adults own a desktop or laptop computer, and 68% own a smartphone).

These new technologies have forced us to re-consider many novel legal issues that arose from their integration into our daily lives.  Recent Supreme Court decisions such as Riley v. California in 2014 pointed out the immense data storage capacity of a modern cell phone, and requires a warrant for its search in the context of a criminal prosecution.  In the civil context, many consumers are concerned with internet tracking.  Indeed, the MJLST published an article in 2012 addressing this issue.

We have grown so accustomed to seeing “suggestions” that eerily match our respective interests.  In fact, internet tracking technology has become far more sophisticated than the traditional cookies, and can now utilizes “fingerprinting” technology to look at battery status or window size to identify a user’s presence or interest. This leads many to fear for their data privacy in similar digital settings.  However, isn’t this digital tracking just the modern adaptation to “physical” tracking that we have grown so accustomed to?

When we physically go to a grocery store, don’t we subject ourselves to the prying eyes of those around us?  Why should it be any different in a cyberspace context?  While seemingly scary accurate at times, “suggestions” or “recommended pages” based on one’s browsing history can actually be beneficial to both the tracked and the tracker.  The tracked gets more personalized search results while the tracker uses that information for better business results between him and the consumer.  Many browsers already sport the “incognito” function to disable the tracks, bring a balance to when consumers want their privacy.  Of course, this tracking technology can be misused, but malicious use of a beneficial technology has always been there in our world.

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