Yesterday, Microsoft announced that they’re taking steps to assure user privacy with a new Do Not Track option in Internet Explorer 9. The announcement comes on the heels of a highly disputed recommendation from the FTC that would make tracking an opt-in only scenario.
Experts have complained that asking web users to turn on the ability to track them would be devastating for small business owners who depend on tracking to tightly target ads. Others have said that such a move would be impossible to regulate due to the wide variety of browsers and ad delivery systems.
Microsoft has come up with a middle-ground solution that, if it appeases the FTC, could be the way of the future.
Internet Explorer 9, which is due to be released early next year, will come equipped with “Tracking Protection.” Using this feature, consumers will be able to click on an ad and disallow the 3rd party offering the ad from tracking them in the future. These 3rd parties are added to a “Tracking Protection List” which is saved in the browser settings. Microsoft has a short demo video on the blog announcement that shows a single web page with two different sets of tracking elements. They choose one element and on refresh, those ads are automatically blocked leaving a white space where they would have appeared. They go in again and choose element B and the original ads return and these ads disappear.
The main difference between IE 9’s Tracking Protection and the FTC’s proposed Do Not Track option is that the user must turn on the option and actively work to filter out unwanted ads. If the FTC has it their way, it will be the other way around. Filtering will be the default and users will need to flip a switch if they wish to be tracked.
From a marketing standpoint, Microsoft’s solution is the best one. This way, consumers who worry about tracking can opt out, but those who don’t understand it or don’t care won’t be affected. It truly is the “Don’t Call List” of the Internet.
The question is, will giving consumers the option of opting out be enough to satisfy the FTC? It’s unlikely that the average casual Internet user will even be aware of the option, let alone figure out how to use it. My mother may not like the idea of having her movements tracked, but I can’t see her actively clicking around to find and deactivate all of the 3rd party delivery systems on her favorite webpage.
What do you think? Does the government need to get involved in protecting the privacy of surfers? Or is Microsoft’s solution the perfect compromise?