The Do Not Track Mess

Most of us either haven’t head of Do Not Track of if we have we probably think it’s something to do with an anti hunting group. In fact it’s the product of the White House led privacy initiatives of a year or so ago where browser manufactures committed to enabling a Do Not Track feature on their browsers which would mean that advertisers couldn’t follow them around the web serving ads based on user identified behavior. The classic use case is that I search for a Honda Civic on Google today and for the next week or two I see ads for Honda Civics where ever I go on the web. As someone who makes their living in digital advertising I love the idea, privacy advocates…not so much. I get that it feels a little creepy but really…how bad is it? I’m going to see ads whatever I do…it’s a Do Not Track feature not Do Not Advertise. Frankly, I’d rather see ads which I might actually be interested in rather than a random assortment of ads which have no relevance to me at all.

Others don’t share my sunny attitude so the browser manufacturers have been adding DNT features to their browsers over the past few months. Google has finally caved as last man standing and just released the feature in their latest developer release. That’s tough for Google because they make the vast majority of their money through advertising and this online stalking or “remarketing” feature has been a growing revenue stream for them for a while. This is the proverbial Turkey voting for Thanksgiving. The market is fairly closely divided with Chrome and IE pretty much tied at 33% each in the US with IE taking close to half the market worldwide. With DNT there is a difference between having it and having it turned on. Most users don’t tamper very much with their browser settings (which is why MSN still has any traffic at all) so if a browser is shipped with it turned off so that only the geeky can figure out how to turn it on it will remain pretty moot. Microsoft has said that they will ship their Windows 8 Browser with this enabled and others in the online world (like Apache) are attempting to stem the tide by say that they will ignore them. I think it’s a safe bet that Google will ship with this feature turned off in spite of the PR black eye that will no doubt deliver. In any event we can expect the Tracking controversy to remain a hot topic and will in good part control what ads we see over the next few years.

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