Suppose your car dealer put a device in every vehicle they sold that would allow the dealer to know where you’ve been.
Maybe they’d bury something deep in the owner’s manual that explained what it was and how to turn it off, but how many people really read the car’s manual cover to cover? Of course, such things do exist – the OnStar service tracks you, as does the smart phone you have in the vehicle much of the time. The “creepy” factor is off the chart but unless you’re a criminal it’s not something we think about a lot. It doesn’t really affect you (at least not until you’re in an accident and the “black box” data from the vehicle is used to raise your insurance rates!). I don’t think, however, you’d be very happy, especially not if you don’t have OnStar or keep your phone on to prevent the tracking.
I bring this up because the digital ad industry is in a panic over the announcement by Mozilla the other day. They announced that new versions of the Firefox browser would block third-party cookies, those little bits of code ad networks use to build profiles of your web surfing. The Safari browser has done this for a while, and as I wrote a year ago, researchers found out that the ad guys were going to great lengths to get around the blocking. There were other nefarious things going on as well. Some folks used “history-sniffing” to figure out which sites users visited in order to compile marketing profiles of them. Ad networks and other companies that use the technology are able to determine which sites users have previously visited.
Now many observers are speculating how the trackers will get around the privacy measures being implemented. The Chrome browser allows you to turn off the tracking although it’s not a default setting, and there have been add-ons available for all browsers that did it for a long time. Maybe it’s time to reiterate the point.
People don’t like you to follow them around unless you’ve been invited. Not on the street. Not in their car. Not on the web.
That’s about as plain and common-sense as I can state it. I don’t think many of you would disagree. Yes, I completely understand the content/value equation – you’re giving me free content and in return I’m giving you access to a little data about me so you can sell ads. Why not make that blatantly obvious to every user? Maybe when I get to a site an overlay should say “Welcome! You have cookies turned off so we’re guessing you don’t want us to track you. Fair enough. Click here to pay us $1 or click here to enable cookies and access the site for free.” It’s now MY choice.
It doesn’t mean that circumventing settings in order to track people is a good idea. If nothing else, it violates users’ assumptions about how their data is being collected and used. When they discover the truth — as they inevitably will — some proportion will be more inclined than ever to support restrictions on companies.
In other words, place nice, be transparent, and treat your customers like adults. Take “no” for an answer and move on. Otherwise, some legal authority will move you on. Is that really so hard?