You Know What They Mean

Another report of marketing brilliance (sarcasm alert) from the digital world. This time it’s a report that ad networks are continuing to track users who opt out based on the flimsiest of reasoning. As a consumer, I’m not surprised and not pleased. As a person who works in digital marketing, I’m appalled since this is exactly the sort of behavior that leads to more rules and less innovation. It puts an entire industry in a bad light even though it’s a few bad apples and not everyone.  But I’ll lay out the fact and let you decide if I’m overreacting.

The study comes out of Stanford Law‘s Center For Internet and Society.  This article from Media Post sums it up nicely:

Almost half of the companies that belong to the self-regulatory group Network Advertising Initiative leave tracking cookies on users’ computers even after they opt out of online behavioral targeting…Self-regulatory standards call for ad networks to stop targeting ads to people based on the sites they have visited if they opt out. But the standards do not specifically require companies to stop gathering data about users’ Web activity.

So their logic is sort of  “I’ll continue to get information on you without showing you ads based on that information since you didn’t specifically tell me not to track you.”  In some case this is exactly what the vague wording of their privacy policies states they’ll do; in others it’s a direct violation of their own policy.  In either case, it’s dumb.

When a user tells you “don’t track me”, you know what they mean.  It doesn’t just mean “don’t show me ads”.  It’s not permission to gather data but then discard it.  It mean”GO AWAY.  LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE.”  What’s more infuriating (but not unexpected) is that all of these companies belong to the group formed to prevent governmental regulation by demanding good self-regulation.

I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.  A number of companies – Google, Quantcast, YuMe, and others – not only comply with users’ wishes but go beyond the standard and remove their cookies completely.  They should be the ones reminding their peers that when users express their preferences they expect those preferences to be followed and not ignored by splitting linguistic or legal hairs.

What’s your take?

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