I mentioned a few weeks back that there is a new storm building around online privacy. For several years now end users have been subject to viruses, mall ware, downloads and story after story about how Facebook and others are ruthlessly collecting end user information for commercial exploitation. If there’s a consensus it’s probably something along the lines of ‘the world is out to get us and nobody can be trusted.’ At the heart of the most recent wave of discussion is Do Not Track. This came from political pressure on the industry to do a better job of protecting user privacy. The Do Not Track features being introduced by browser manufacturers are central as they prevent advertisers from using techniques like re-marketing by Google to follow to push messages to advertisers having established their interest through an online activity such as search.
The story gathered speed this week by the Ad industry’s publication of an open letter to Microsoft protesting their adoption of Do Not Track set to “on” in the default install. I won’t waste your time by dissecting their arguments (mostly a mixture of silliness and hyperbole). Advertisers are seriously annoyed and it’s not hard to guess why. Microsoft has clearly done the math and figures that end users seeing them as the more secure browser is more valuable to them than the marginal value that re-marketing and such represents. Conversely you can be pretty sure that Google will be delivering Chrome with this feature available but set to off. I’m actually not sure what Firefox will be doing, my suspicion is that it will be delivered off. They have recently added ASK results to their default delivery and they have bills to pay too.
The problem the advertisers have is that (unlike TV or Radio) the goals of the browser manufacturers aren’t aligned with the goals of advertisers in all cases….which is tough for advertisers, but there’s really nothing much they can do about it. I personally think that this kind of tracking is essentially harmless (and might even be useful) but typical users who are tired of being exploited online are likely to see this as another invasion and will thank the former evil empire of Microsoft protecting them from the new evil empire of Google and friends.