'Do Not Track' privacy effort at crossroads

Nov 17, 2012 by Rob Lever
A movement by privacy activists to curb tracking of Internet users' browsing habits scored a major victory last month when Microsoft launched its new browser with "do not track" as the default, or automatic setting.

A movement by privacy activists to curb tracking of Internet users' browsing habits scored a major victory last month when Microsoft launched its new browser with "do not track" as the default, or automatic setting.

But some advertisers are in revolt against the move, certain websites are skirting the Microsoft effort and the debate over online and tracking is heating up.

The controversy stems from practices used by websites and marketing partners to track browsing activity to be able to deliver ads targeted to individuals.

The ad industry argues that tracking is done anonymously without violating privacy, but some say it is easy to connect the person's anonymous IP address or mobile device to a real person.

"It is trivial to make those connections," says Jim Brock, a former Yahoo! executive who now heads a venture called PrivacyFix which offers browser plug-ins for privacy and other services to consumers and businesses.

Websites and use a variety of software to determine a user's browsing habits. Marketers can then use that data for "behavioral ads" designed with people's habits in mind.

In some cases, these can predict if a consumer is price-sensitive, allowing sellers to charge more or less for a product or service.

Privacy activists say a simple Web search can make consumers a for marketers, and that viewing certain websites may identify them as , or suffering from another disease.

"That is one of the scariest things, and it shakes people's faith in the marketing industry," Brock said. "There is very little protection for targeting based on . This is information that can get in the hands of and employers who might not use it in a way we would expect."

Most Web browsers allow users to activate a "do not track" privacy feature, and Microsoft designed its Internet Explorer 10 with the feature as the default setting.

"We believe consumers should have more control over how data about their online behavior is tracked, shared, and used," Microsoft chief privacy officer Brendon Lynch said in announcing the move.

Advertisers see the issue differently, arguing that Microsoft should not make the decision for consumers.

A movement by privacy activists to curb tracking of Internet users' browsing habits scored a major victory last month when Microsoft launched its new browser with "do not track" as the default, or automatic setting.

The Digital Advertising Alliance, a consortium of the largest US media and marketing associations, told its members they can ignore or override the default settings in Microsoft or other browsers.

"The trade associations that lead the DAA do not believe that Microsoft's IE10 browser settings are an appropriate standard for providing consumer choice," said the alliance, which includes the Better Business Bureau.

"Machine-driven do not track does not represent user choice; it represents browser-manufacturer choice."

Yahoo! has also broken ranks with Microsoft, saying it "will not recognize" the "do not track" settings by default.

A Yahoo! blog post said Microsoft acted "unilaterally" and that "this degrades the experience for the majority of users and makes it hard to deliver on our value proposition to them."

Representatives Edward Markey and Joe Barton, who head the House privacy caucus, expressed disappointment over the actions by advertisers and Yahoo!, saying they highlight the need for better privacy laws.

"If consumers want to be tracked online, they should have to opt-in, not the other way around," the two lawmakers said in a statement.

Some analysts argue that wiping out all online tracking would undermine the economic model of the Internet.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank, recently modified its website to warn visitors with "do not track" enabled with a pop-up message which asks them to enable tracking.

ITIF analyst Daniel Castro said most consumers do not object to online tracking if they understand that ads support the websites they visit.

"You can't say you don't want targeted advertising but you do want free access to websites," Castro said.

"People like free content and they are willing to make some tradeoffs."

Richard Frankel, president of the ad technology firm Rocket Fuel, said that even though "everyone claims to hate online advertising" there would be very little content on the Internet without it.

Frankel said that imposing tracking restrictions would cut revenues and thereby "would stifle investigative reporting, dissuade open discussion and commentary, and muffle free speech."

Brock acknowledges that revenue will be lost if without behavioral ads, but that the industry has failed to persuade consumers of their value.

"There will be less data to monetize," said Brock, who describes himself as "a former tracker."

"But what the industry has not done is to explain why we benefit from targeted advertising."

Brock argues that with industries unable to reach agreement on privacy standards, consumers may face confusion and it may be time for the government to step in with legislation.

"I believe in ad-supported media, but the industry is giving us no choice," he said. "They need a kick in the butt from the government."

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User comments : 9

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Squirrel
1.5 / 5 (8) Nov 17, 2012
Would we select to buy double the cover price for our newspapers and magazines (those that buy the hardcopies that is) if they lacked the ads that help get their price down? Would we select to pay more for postage if the junk mail that provides nuisance in our mail box but extra profits to the postal system were banned? Would you pay to visit phys org but not see the ads?
IronhorseA
3.5 / 5 (8) Nov 17, 2012
Makes you wonder how newspaper advertisers got along with out all that tracking information. ;P
Cave_Man
1 / 5 (4) Nov 17, 2012
...and that "this degrades the experience for the majority of users and makes it hard to deliver on our value proposition to them."

Read more at: http://phys.org/n...html#jCp


Why would anyone think unsolicited advertising is a value to customers?
Idiots need to realize that the ordinary person HATES ADS!!! If we/they want a product they will actively search for it. It's not that hard to understand...unless you have millions in advertising revenue being crammed up your ass as the moment.
Epsillon
5 / 5 (2) Nov 17, 2012
The irony, of course, is that there are 2 web tracking analytics on this very page, as well as the social buttons.
DirtySquirties
2 / 5 (8) Nov 18, 2012
They'd do better by turning off third party cookies by default.
Readero
5 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2012
Each update means unilateral action. Yahoo!, don't pretend that you are defending the consumers; was it not affecting you as directly, you wouldn't have fussed as much about it.
Do you know how much discomfort would it have caused the users if Microsoft made them to set its value manually? Most of them don't even know what cookies are, much less tracking ones.
Consumers should have to opt-in, not the other way around. - Agree. Interface to edit info stored about u should be made u-friendly. Freedom from box-in of the same old tunes...
Imagine: Each place you visit, has advertisers giving out badges; you cannot choose to accept some, to decline others. They reflect not your taste, but your history. As you walk past a shop, traders play up accordingly to badges worn, not your words.
Advertisements should be of quite useful local services, or else ads will be forgotten.
Can an application offer clipping an article of the paper, or an advertisement from it, into offline long-term storage?
Urgelt
not rated yet Nov 18, 2012
Squirrel wrote, "Would we select to buy double the cover price for our newspapers and magazines (those that buy the hardcopies that is) if they lacked the ads that help get their price down? Would we select to pay more for postage if the junk mail that provides nuisance in our mail box but extra profits to the postal system were banned? Would you pay to visit phys org but not see the ads?"

None of your examples track users, Squirrel, so your point is muddled to the point of being entirely lost.

Nobody is saying advertising can't happen on the internet. This is about consumers opting out of being tracked, so ads can't be targeted based on user behaviors. Ads can still be targeted based on the expected audience for a site, just as with magazines and newspapers. You'd expect, for example, a strong interest in science among Phys.org readers. That can be used to market stuff.
Argiod
1 / 5 (5) Nov 19, 2012
I have watched obnoxious advertising grow into a real beast over the last ten years or so. And I still cannot understand how these companies think they are going to sell me something by p.ss.ng me off with all these pop-up, pop-under, pop-behind, pop-over... etc ads. It is quite disturbing when a dyslexic like myself tries to follow leads during our online research, to have ads constantly intruding on the process; trying to sell me stuff I don't want, don't need, and often can't afford; when all I want to do is find information on whatever subject I'm currently researching. It breaks my focus and makes me want to learn how to make everything for myself, just so I don't have to do business with these annoying people.
Rick150
1 / 5 (3) Nov 19, 2012
Actually I blocked 10 trackers when viewing this page.
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