The company BlueCava boasted this week that its technology, which relies on device fingerprinting, offers Web companies a way to track people while still complying with Europe's broad privacy laws.
BlueCava says that the newest version of its device-fingerprinting technology doesn't require installing cookies on users' computers. Instead, the company recognizes the unique characteristics of users' computers and then compiles information about those people's Web-surfing activity.
The company says its method of tracking will meet with European regulators' approval because it doesn't require dropping cookies on users' machines. Europe's privacy laws are in flux, but some experts interpret a EU privacy directive as requiring companies to obtain users' opt-in consent before installing tracking cookies on their computers.
Others, however, argue that the European privacy directive applies -- or at least should apply -- to all forms of tracking. The Center for Democracy & Technology's Justin Brookman, for one, tells MediaPost it's the “ability to track users across sites” that's important, not whether the tracking is cookie- based or not. (Brookman initially tweeted, “When knives are banned, why not use a gun?” in response to BlueCava's announcement touting its technology as a solution to the EU privacy directive.)
Regardless of whether the technology will meet with European regulators' approval, it seems counterintuitive to think of device fingerprinting as a boon to privacy. After all, users can easily delete their cookies but are pretty much stuck with their device's fingerprints.
But BlueCava CEO David Norris counters that his company not only allows people to opt out of tracking, but also stores the opt-outs itself, rendering them persistent. By contrast, when people opt out of cookie-based tracking, ad networks generally store that data in cookies on users' computers; if users opt out of behavioral targeting, but then delete their cookies, they are again subject to tracking by ad networks.
Even Brookman agrees that Blue Cava “has a legitimate point” about the persistence of its opt-outs. “The fragility of opt-out cookies is a very legitimate criticism of the ad industry's current opt-out process,” he says. And, he adds, BlueCava is more privacy-friendly than ad networks in at least one other respect: It honors the browser-based "do not track" headers. Most ad networks have not promised to do so.