After years of pressure from the government and the general public, a group of internet companies, including Google, have finally agreed to support a “Do Not Track” button in browsers. This announcement came alongside the Obama administration’s proposal for an online privacy bill of rights, which basically says that a consumer has the right to control what data is collected about them.
While all of the details are not finalized, the “Do Not Track” program appears to be similar to the FTC’s other national programs related to consumer privacy:
“Essentially, ‘do not track’ works like the agency’s ‘do not call’ list. Just as a consumer can choose not to receive calls from telemarketers, they can now choose not to be tracked on the Web as well. As a result, their Web-surfing history would not be sent to third-party sites and their activity would not be used to serve up targeted advertisements, among other things.” -Chloe Albanesius, PC Mag
This solution will certainly appeal to the general public, which has frequently voiced their disapproval of data collection by companies such as Google and Facebook (even though their websites and services are offered completely free of charge, and the public is in no way required to use them).
An easy opt-in could lead to very high adoption rates, and that definitely will have some marketers concerned.
The ability to deliver targeted ads to even the smallest niche audiences has led to multiple brands shifting dollars away from traditional tactics, such as print and radio, and onto the web. This has become even easier with the rise of ad exchanges and real-time bidding platforms.
With this technology, online marketers have the ability to purchase clusters of targeted ad impressions, across several sites, at the price that they desire. And that’s ultimately the goal of any form of advertising: target the right person with the right message, at the right time.
Will “Do Not Track” be the end of behavioral targeting as we know it?
I’m not so sure. For one, more sites are beginning to charge for their content, as Gannett recently announced with their network of newspaper websites. If users are forced to register for a site, ad targeting is generally more accurate since users willingly provide information, rather than it being gathered without their knowledge. And if users now have the ability to select the types of ads and offers they would like to see, even better.
Also, the digital industry will now be forced to better explain why they’re collecting data and how they’re using it. The fact is, marketers and publishers are not interested in information about a specific individual. We just want to segment everyone into specific groups that indicate an interest or desire to buy a product or service. By having an open dialogue and educating consumers, we have an opportunity to create a system that meets the needs of everyone involved.
Online advertising is currently a $32 billion industry. While this may affect the aggressive growth being projected over the next 5 years, it’s not going anywhere.
What will be interesting is if the government will now turn their attention to data collection practices in other industries, such as retail.