It is easy to use fear and suspicion to build a case against internet tracking. Many blogs and news articles have used imagery and language that presents a visual of seedy businessmen in clandestine meetings, exchanging leather attaché cases full of cash for stolen identities. They stress that these companies are pocketing wads of cash from your lack of privacy. In reality, there is no reason to resort to such simplistic arguments. There are many perfectly logical reasons that this legislation should be supported, even by the marketers that may be limited by it.
In order to understand the need for this legislation, however, it is important to understand the legislation itself. Many have compared the law to the 2003 Do-Not-Call list that sought to end the annoyance of unsolicited telemarketing. However, this connection is not entirely accurate. Internet tracking is more similar to junk mail than it is telemarketing. Some internet companies are essentially paid to sift through the cookies, saved data, and shopping habits that any internet user leaves behind. This data is sold to advertisers and corporations and used to tweak and tailor what ads you see online, similar to how ordering a circular saw from a catalog results in a mailbox full of hardware store postcards. There are many levels of this tracking, and some of them, like Amazon recommended purchases, are often appreciated by consumers. The thing that consumers have a problem with is having no control over who or what is seeing this data.
Steven Vine, of Datran Media, is one marketer that supports the idea of giving that control back to consumers. He feels that giving consumers a method to control what can and cannot track them could lead to a more effective tracking system. “A global opt-out is a sledgehammer. While a sledgehammer is exactly what a few consumers are looking for, most would prefer a scalpel. Look at Google’s Preference Manager, where ‘compared to the number of people who choose to opt out entirely, four times more people merely edit their categories, while ten times more people do nothing at all.’” In his blog, he describes limitations and options that could allow marketers and consumers to mutually benefit from the legislation.
- Do not limit first-party tracking and targeting. First-party tracking and targeting drive great consumer experience online, and are already transparent. It would be a mistake to require Amazon.com, for example, to disable its useful on-site recommendation engine for those who join a do-not-track registry.
- Do not limit tracking for other purposes, such as analytics. Analytics, measurement, and attribution do not raise the same privacy issues as behavioral profiling, and are needed to support the basic business operations of online services. If the scope of do-not-track limits activities beyond behavioral tracking and targeting, it will trade substantial harm to the industry and consumer experience for a marginal enhancement of privacy.
- Subsequent express permission must be allowed to override a previous do-not-track request. Targeted advertising is and will remain essential to support most of the web’s content and services. Web sites supported by targeted advertising should be free to deny consumers access unless the consumers give permission to be targeted. The ability to make this tradeoff clear will inspire the development of multiple online business models. Just as with do not call, companies must be able to obtain an individual’s subsequent permission to override a previous do-not-track request.
Do-Not-Track legislation only exists because marketers were unwilling to monitor the privacy of their consumers on their own. The problem has gotten so far out of hand that legislators have had to step in to play mediator. If marketers want to retain the ability to track, monitor, and cater to specific targeted consumers, they need to agree to a defined optional system. The alternative is legislation that will not benefit anyone.
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