Commentary

Why Do-Not-Track Isn't As New As It Might Sound

Judging by some of the media coverage, one would think that do-not-track is a revolutionary proposal that could change the nature of online advertising.

In the latest example, this week USA Today ran a lengthy article saying that critics of do-not-track warn it could "disrupt the burgeoning online advertising industry."

This type of complaint, however, doesn't take into account that the online ad industry endorsed do-not-track in principle with the creation of the Network Advertising Initiative 10 years ago.

Perhaps no one used the terminology "do-not-track" to describe the NAI's opt-out link, and perhaps the mechanism never was popular with consumers, but the idea was similar: Web users who visited the NAI site were supposed to be able to opt out of tracking by ad networks with a single click.

In practice, however, the opt-out fell short of do-not-track for a few reasons. First, the NAI was never able to guarantee that consumers wouldn't be tracked because not all ad networks joined the organization.

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Additionally, opting out through a link buried in a privacy policy wasn't necessarily intuitive or simple. What's more, even when people successfully opted out, cookie-based opt-outs proved unstable, given that the opt-out cookie was deleted every time people erased their cookies.

Even if consumers are more inclined to use a new, truly universal opt-out mechanism (assuming that one can be developed), than to attempt to install the NAI opt-out cookie, do-not-track remains entirely consistent with the industry's self-regulatory principles. After all, those guidelines emphasize that consumers should be able to choose whether or not to be tracked online.

If the ad industry doesn't want people to opt out, the answer isn't lobbying against do-not-track mechanisms, but convincing consumers that targeted ads provide benefits.

1 comment about "Why Do-Not-Track Isn't As New As It Might Sound".
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  1. Bruce May from Bizperity, December 14, 2010 at 9:35 p.m.

    And we should just let the banks regulate themselves! Sure, why not.... what could go wrong with that?

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