Posted January 25, 2011 7:49 am by with 2 comments

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Yesterday, I discussed how hype and news maybe shouldn’t be held up as equals. Some of you disagreed which is cool but what happened today goes to show the risks of talking a good game without having anything to back it up.

Yesterday, Mozilla discussed their ad tracking blocker for their browser but couldn’t give an indication of when it would be actually ready. Well, Mozilla’s frienemy, Google, has their own extension for their Chrome browser with the difference being it can be used right now.

The LA Times Technology blog reports.

Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox Web browsers are each gaining new features that will block advertisers from tracking Web surfing habits.

Firefox’s feature, announced Sunday, will be called Do Not Track and is under development. Chrome’s utility, announced Monday, is called Keep My Opt-Outs and available now.

The two tools to help protect user privacy follow a December Federal Trade Commission recommendation that all Web browsers add do not track features.

Held up side-to-side Google looks a little more on top of the game with their announcement since they actually have a product that you can put in use right now.

Aside from the “is it hype or is it news?” aspect of all of this though is the point that is made very well by MG Siegler of TechCrunch. He cuts to the chase and explores the reality of these announcements.

But let’s be honest here: this really doesn’t mean much of anything.

Depending on which stats you prefer, Google Chrome has about 10 percent of the total worldwide browser market share. Of those, a smaller percentage actually know what an extension is. Of those, a smaller percentage use them. Of those, a much smaller percentage are going to know what this opt-out extension is. And of those, an even smaller percentage are actually going to install it. (The same argument could be made for Firefox, as well.)

Point taken. In the end all of this talk of being responsible may be all just a PR play to keep regulators out of the ad track blocking business. No one in the online space wants the government to be playing ad track cop so the best offense is a good defense, right? By saying that the industry is taking care of this issue of privacy and ad serving in a self policing manner it makes it much more difficult for the government to come in and claim that since nothing is being done it must protect the people.

In the end, it is likely that this kerfuffle will be just another “see what we are saying we are doing but with relatively low impact” deal that is more CYA than actual protection for the consumer.

The ace in the hole for all online players relates to the point made by Siegler and that is that no matter how much is offered as protections for the consumer, most of them don’t even have the slightest clue what is being done with their online data and habits. It’s likely that they don’t care either.

So in the end, all of this will likely serve to show that the advertising industry is on the job and that no one needs to step in and monitor their playground. If you would like to see Google’s spin, visit their Policy blog.

So advertisers need not worry too much and this is just how the industry wants it. Until the general public has real knowledge and understanding of what can be done with their data in the online world there is little to fear for advertisers losing the ability to track people and serve ads based on the online behaviors.

The truth of the matter is most people don’t know a lot about this, they want to know a lot about this and they don’t care a lot about this. That is until the lawsuits start to fly about privacy invasions due to ad tracking. Then we’ll see just what gets done to truly police this area of the Internet.

  • dean

    Good post Frank and kudos for being the first person in 2011 to use “kerfuffle” in a blog post.

    This is definitely a case of trying to keep regulators at bay. As for its impact I agree that it should be minimal as 99% of the population doesn’t know or doesn’t care about browser extensions. If there is a risk, its perhaps companies mandating that the extensions be added to browsers in the workplace. This could have a larger impact as its the activity between 9-5 that is of more interest to some of us.

    I also find it ironic that the feds are trying to protect the privacy of a population who increasingly “over-share” every aspect of their lives quite willingly on FaceBook.

  • Developers of these leading browsers are really doing a great job