A "Do Not Track" list to stop online data collection might appease privacy advocates and comply with U.S. Federal Trade Commission guidelines -- but stopping companies from collecting data to serve up ads won't work on the Internet, whose business model, for the most part, relies on free content. But you, more than anyone, should know free comes with a price. In exchange for content, companies can serve up ads that entice you to buy something. It's your job to have the willpower to resist.
Last week the FTC and the Department of Commerce said companies supporting the advertisers lack the ability to self-regulate the multibillion-dollar online ad industry, which relies on tracking technology to keep much of the content on the Web free. The FTC wants to give consumers the ability to opt out of providing data used for marketing purposes.
Are self-regulation efforts spearheaded by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) enough to pacify the FTC? "Yes, they can be," says Mike Zaneis, senior vice president and general counsel at the Interactive Advertising Bureau. "They're not today, but they will be soon enough to meet the goal of the FTC. Increased transparency, easy to use comprehensive choice, and persistency in that choice are the three principles of our self-regulatory program, which is what the FTC wants."
No one argues that the privacy policies are just too complicated to read. But the way privacy advocates position their view makes the whole thing seem a little creepy. So, as part of the ad industry's program to meet regulatory compliance, an icon now appear on ads that leads consumers to an opt-out page and more information. Consumers also should have real-time information on what data is collected on them.
To date, few consumers have clicked on the icon. The IAB and industry execs believe the DAA, which includes several trade groups, has delivered on what the Commission asked for. "We don't expect it to have a meaningful impact on the industry or revenue," says Oren Netzer, CEO and cofounder of DoubleVerify. "
Netzer says there's a lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to online advertising. And if the industry can add accountability and compliance, as a whole, it can flourish. There are about 40 billion impressions being verified per month, and with a push of a button any of the company's advertisers can become compliant, he says.
I'm all for privacy, preventing companies from collecting data they can use to track you through the Internet. In fact, I go out of my way to protect mine. However, other than becoming a recluse, there's a limit to what you can do to protect information about yourself. What's the alternative other than an industry-regulated framework?
I equate entering the online world through the Internet similar to walking out the front door to your home onto a busy New York street and getting hit with billboards and storefront signs.
Maybe this is too simplistic, but my advice to residents of New York, London and other big cities is: shut off the computer and never leave your home. The number of cameras following you from street corner to store front to street corner will boggle the mind.