The Real DNT Question

The good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation released their own definition of “do not track” the other day.  You might wonder why there needs to be more than one definition of such an easy to understand concept.  After all, what could be more clear than “do not track?”  As it turns out, marketers and others seem to misunderstand the term, at least then they are wearing their business hats.  They’re also hiding behind those hats in order not to address the real issue.

Here is where the EFF is coming from:

We think using the Web—including viewing online advertisements—shouldn’t come at the cost of privacy.  Whether their business is analytics, advertising, or social networking, companies dealing with data must be persuaded to respect a universal opt-out from tracking and collecting personal data without consent.

Pretty clear, I think.  You can read the policy they’re promoting here.  DNT Means Do Not Collect…And Do Not Retain…Except Where Required…Necessary to Complete a Transaction… Or With the Clear Consent of the User.  That seems very clear and yet even though this discussion has been going on for years, there is still no effective implementation.  As MediaPost said:

One reason why do-not-track never gained broad support is that the ad industry and privacy advocates couldn’t agree on how the signals should be interpreted. Some privacy advocates argued that people who say they don’t want to be “tracked” don’t want any information about their Web-surfing history compiled. But ad industry representatives said they were willing to stop serving targeted ads to people who turned on do-not-track, but wanted to continue to be able to collect data for purposes like market research and product development.

In other words, we’ll tell you what you mean.  Opting-out is never as good in my mind as opting in.  While advertisers and publishers aren’t exactly holding people against their will in their ad universe, they are forcing users to ask to leave as opposed to inviting them in.  Opting out has been made hard on purpose.  But we’re avoiding the real issue.  We are very focused on finding a good and technologically persistent way to respect users’ privacy and to opt them out.  What we really ought to be focused on is how can we  keep users engaged and opted in while maintaining their trust in how we’re using their information.

How do you see it?

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