Regardless of its innovative approach and entrepreneurial spirit, the information and communications industry has yet to agree on a substantial solution to protect their users on the internet.

Although privacy watchdogs are calling for laws that would force companies to reconsider all digital surveillance of consumers, there is still no mutual understanding in sight. Those who don't want to be tracked at least want to know how their personal information is used and stored or where it is ending up and their concerns are steadily growing due to invasive internet marketing practices. Indeed it seems that every move we are doing online these days is observed, analyzed and harvested for profit so that privacy seems to fall into oblivion.

Cookies, Web beacons and other sophisticated tracking tools monitor any click a user is doing, whatever links they click, what they search for and in the end buy. By mining all this information, marketers ensure that they can deliver relevant pitches.

So, it is no surprise that calls for online privacy protection makes noise, whereupon companies such as Microsoft, Mozilla and Google respond with various "Do Not Track" technologies. Still, an industry-wide solution is not close at hand as putting this Do Not Track concept into practice is much more complicated than it actually seems.

The biggest challenge is reaching an industry consensus on what “Do Not Track” obligations should mean, followed by the task to come up with standard technology tools that are easy for consumers to use as well as a set of common rules that all Websites and advertisers will follow.

In fact, the industry has to find a way to let consumers halt intrusive online marketing practices without preventing tracking critical for the internet to function. Let’s face the truth, we all rely on tracking not just to target ads, but also to analyze website traffic patterns, store online passwords and deliver customized content, so we can’t abandon it or negate the lucrative (and actually really positive) effect of behavioral advertising, since it delivers personalized pitches that people probably want.

The real problem seems to be the fact that many consumers don't know they're being tracked, or if they do, they have no idea what happens to their information - whether it is used to create personal profiles, merged with offline databases or sold to data brokers - and last but not least the fact that there is no practical way to stop the data collection.

The Digital Advertising Alliance came up with a kind of solution when introducing their self-regulatory program that places icons inside the online ads of participating advertisers, ad networks and websites. The icon links to a site that explains online targeting and provides consumers with an opt-out cookie they can install if they just want to receive standard ads. The Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Direct Marketing Association, as well as individual companies including Google and Yahoo!, are part of this group, but all are still looking for a mutual satisfying solution on how to deal with the situation.

Let’s see if it just needs more time to establish thoughtful privacy controls that puts nobody on the wrong side.

By Daniela La Marca