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Is Do Not Track Something to Worry About?

This past Wednesday, the FTC released a report stating that they were behind a “Do Not Track” program that would automatically stop all ad tracking unless the consumer opted in. The consensus from the government is that advertisers aren’t doing enough to assure consumer privacy, so they’re being forced to step in.

As of this morning, a dozen plus blogs and news outlets have chimed in on the topic discussing everything from the possibility of it becoming a reality and who will be hurt if it happens.

Multichannel news covered a Time Warner media VP’s appearance before the subcommittee on Thursday. Joan Gillman’s point was that “Do Not Track” would interfere with the “vibrancy” of the internet in that it would restrict a company’s ability to be marketing innovators.

When that didn’t fly, she tried hitting them with the old, ‘it’s the little guy who is going to get hurt’ tactic. She pointed out that small businesses need targeted advertising in order to make the most of the lower number of visitors to their sites.

Gillman and media expert Debra Aho Williamson,both raise the issue of, shall we say, complications arising from a non-targeted ad system. For example, without tracking cookies, a website doesn’t know to cap an ad after so many repeats and then there’s the whole convenience thing.

Says Williamson to eMarketer;

“Things they don’t think about are how when they visit a news site the site tracks what they are interested in and then offers them stories they like. Or how an ecommerce site keeps their credit card information, so they don’t have to re-enter it every time they want to buy something. Or that a social site keeps track of their preferences. People take all of this for granted, and I’m not sure that consumers or the FTC are completely aware of this.”

Proponents of the bill say all of those concerns are petty in the face of privacy leaks and big brother surveillance.  Where some find an ad that knows where you live to be helpful, others find it creepy. I’m somewhere in between.

There are two things everyone agrees on. The advertising industry isn’t in a position to self-regulate this problem anytime soon due to the complexity of the way ads are delivered. And, that complexity is why most believe this will be impossible to implement.

The Do Not Call list works (to some extent) because most people only have one or two phone numbers. But on the web, ads are controlled by a variety of vendors that respond differently to a half dozen different web browsers and the system is evolving and changing everyday.  Look where we were only five years ago. How can the government hope to enforce a set of rules and systems that could be obsolete less than a year from now?

I believe that most legitimate advertisers don’t want to cross the line on consumer privacy. The trouble is even with GPS and a dozen check-in programs, that line isn’t always easy to find.

What are your thoughts on Do Not Track?

  • http://maryannecarter.com/ Mary Anne

    This confuses me. This sounds like it would be protecting my privacy, so I think I’m for it.

  • http://www.newmoov.com Michael

    I think it’s a challenge for media company profits going forward. Companies like Google are really making the big bucks now that the methods they use remain relatively unchallenged. If people can opt out from data collection, which is needed for target advertising, it could be a problem.

    But you know everyone will find the loopholes and opting out will probably not be easy.