If so, one question is whether proposals for an easy-to-implement do-not-track mechanism would hurt newspapers' online ad prospects. The answer, surprisingly, might be no, at least for major newspapers and portals, according to newspaper industry expert Ken Doctor.
Writing at the Nieman Journalism Lab, Doctor says that newspapers might be able to continue targeting readers even without tracking them across other companies' Web sites.
Doctor doesn't delve into the history of behavioral targeting, but it's worth remembering that the companies that pioneered the technology -- Tacoda and Audience Science -- started by deploying it for newspapers on a publisher-by-publisher basis. In fact, it wasn't clear that publishers would ever want to join networks that gathered data about readers when such data would allow those readers to be targeted while visiting competitors' sites.
In his column, Doctor suggests that newspapers can seize an opportunity to "transparently offer reader/consumers the opportunity to 'opt in' to a wider world of reading and shopping targeting. Then, they could re-emerge, in the tablet era no less, as community and national centers of news -- and commerce."
He's not the only one to suggest a similar model. Three years ago, Internet futurist Esther Dyson proposed "Disclosure 2.0" -- a system where consumers could state exactly what kinds of ads they wished to receive from marketers.
Whether publishers will want to implement these models remains unknown. But given the scrutiny that the online media industry is facing, and their own revenue problems, experimenting with opt-in targeting doesn't seem like the worst idea for news sites to try.