Commentary

Why Do-Not-Track Isn't The Same As Do-Not-Call

Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz surprised many industry watchers yesterday when he told the Senate that the commission might recommend a do-not-track mechanism for behavioral targeting.

He elaborated that the system could take the form of a browser plug-in, and that either the FTC or a private group could oversee it; beyond that, further details will have to wait until the FTC issues a report later this year about online privacy.

Even without all of the particulars, the concept of a do-not-track list seems likely to alarm many online ad companies, if for no other reason than because of telemarketers' experience with the do-not-call registry. That list, which has proven hugely popular with consumers, now has 200 million phone numbers.

But, while the phrase do-not-track might sound comparable to do-not-call, the concepts really aren't all that similar. People who sign up for the federal do-not-call registry are able to avoid most telemarketing -- including the much-disliked ringing telephone that interrupts dinner with an ad.

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Do-not-track, on the other hand, wouldn't allow consumers to avoid advertising in the slightest. On the contrary, people would still see as many ads online as ever, but the difference is that ads wouldn't be targeted based on sites visited. So even Web users who dislike online ads might not join a do-not-track list if they decide they would prefer receiving targeted ads to run-of-network ones.

Additionally, many consumers already have the ability to place themselves on a do-not-track list of sorts by opting out of behavioral targeting, either through the Network Advertising Initiative's opt-out page, by using the group's browser plug-in, or on a site-by-site basis. While the NAI doesn't include all online ad companies, it counts at least 50 ad networks as members.

And even aside from the NAI opt-out page, consumers today can control much behavioral targeting through cookie settings in their browsers. Despite these tools, very few consumers seem to opt out of behavioral targeting.

Whether that will change with an FTC-backed do-not-track registry remains to be seen, but it's by no means certain that consumers would enlist themselves to the same extent as with do-not-call.

3 comments about "Why Do-Not-Track Isn't The Same As Do-Not-Call ".
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  1. Christie Adams from SaleSpider.com, July 29, 2010 at 12:50 p.m.

    You raise an interesting point about how users may actually start opting IN if they realize they might see more ads targeted to their actual needs.

    In the future we may see more transparency online-where users can be clearly informed upfront that by opting in, they'll see ads and offers that actually address their real concerns.

  2. Jeffrey Chester from CDD, July 30, 2010 at 9:45 a.m.

    A do not track list will provide a consumer the choice not to be tracked online--and limit the use of a behavioral targeting profile (and other intrusive digital marketing data-related applications). Yes, a consumer will receive ads--but she/he will decide whether any data can be collected--and what the terms might be. The NAI and other approaches have failed to protect the public. The time has come for a federal program to empower online consumers with safeguards that extend the do-not-call regime. <P>

  3. Roger Toennis from Liquid Media LLC, July 30, 2010 at 10:05 a.m.

    Marketers/Advertisers need to wake up and realize that the majority of people do not want ads that are "better suited to them".

    This belief I want ads that show me things I like is a false assumption that is based on misunderstanding human nature. The very fact that you ARE putting ads in front of consumer's in a dynamic fashion that DO align to their tastes is exactly what CREEPS PEOPLE OUT!

    Plus the fact that you ARE doing a better job getting my attention away form the content I came to a page primarily to see is DISTRACTING AND ANNOYING!

    DUH!!!!

    As a 45 year old male I'd rather have ads on all pages I load targeted at a 16 yr old girl because then I could ignore them more effectively!!!

    HELLO!?!? MCFLY!?!?!

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