Tag Archives: Electronic Frontier Foundation

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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Tracking Do Not Track

Yahoo! has taken a number of steps forward over the last couple of years as it tries to grow its business.

Deutsch: Logo von Yahoo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think they took a large one backward last week as they made an announcement that they had reversed course on the issue of “do not track” settings.  Let’s see what you think.

If you’ve ever gone to get some information on a product and then seen ads for that or similar products for the next month, welcome to the world of “ad personalization.”  It can also be called behavioral targeting although I tend to classify that more for the content presented to a visitor on a web site than to ads that are served up across the web.  Regardless, it can be great if it reminds you of a sale on an item you really want or massively painful if you were checking something out for a spouse or friend that is of no interest to you and the ads just won’t go away.  We will often buy children’s books for friends’ new arrivals and my inbox is littered with emails of new kiddie books.

Two years ago, Yahoo! said it would honor something that’s built into every browser:  do not track settings.  These request that the site you’re visiting not collect data about your visit for the purposes of ad targeting and remarketing.  Key word:  request. Yahoo! said it would honor those requests until it reversed itself last week.  As Media Post reported:

Yahoo still allows users to opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads by clicking on a link — either on its own site, or an umbrella site, like the one operated by the Networking Advertising Initiative. But privacy advocates say that opt-out links are problematic because they’re tied to cookies — and consumers who are especially privacy conscious often delete their cookies.

Then there was this report at about the same time:

The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation this week released a new tool aimed at helping consumers avoid online data collection and behaviorally targeted ads. Privacy Badger — an add-on for Chrome and Firefox — says it “blocks spying ads and invisible trackers.” The EFF says that the tool, still in alpha testing, is its “answer to intrusive and objectionable practices in the online advertising industry, and many advertisers’ outright refusal to meaningfully honor Do Not Track requests.”

So because most major sites’ attitude on do not track requests is “nah,” they’re setting themselves up for users to take matters into their own hands and prevent the gathering of data beyond what is needed for the ad tracking.  As someone who uses visit data to improve the user experience as well as the consumption of my clients’ content I can tell you that if the quantity and quality of all the data declines, so will the overall usefulness and quality of the web. We talk in digital marketing about user signals – someone entering a sales funnel, someone requesting information.  If the other, less obvious, signals are made even harder to ascertain, the web economy is heading for a bumpy ride.

Thoughts?

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