It's time we were allowed to pay money for our privacy.
We already "pay" for our online services by looking at advertising that has been augmented with personal data gleaned from our Internet perambulations. Maybe it's time we formalized the value of users' data. Then, to opt out of tracking, users could simply pay the difference between what they're worth to service providers with and without their data attached.
It's not a tough calculation to make. Dr. Howard Beales, a George Washington University professor and a former director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission, did just that in a paper earlier this year. He collected pricing data from a dozen ad networks that reached 75 percent of the US online population with the cooperation and funding of the Network Advertising Initiative. Dr. Beales found that the average cost per thousand behaviorally targeted ads on those networks last year was $4.12, more than double the $1.98 price of one thousand untargeted "run of network" ads.
We don't have an exact conversion of those numbers into how much you, yourself, would have to pay to have all your Google searches untracked, for example, but it's at least theoretically possible and probably would not be overwhelmingly expensive. Better yet, it's an opt-in service. Don't want to pay for the offset? Fine, keep using the service as you always have. The idea of letting people pay to opt out of ads is one that Google has in fact considered, according to a seven-page memo obtained by The Wall Street Journal today. (Granted it was labeled "wacky.")