Advertisers Win: “Do Not Track” Looks Set to Kick the Can
The promise was simple: for those of us who don’t like the annoyance of being targeted by advertisers, a new and bold mechanism for keeping ads at bay would be implemented across all the major web browsers. The bold initiative was dubbed Do Not Track and after lengthy negotiations between advertisers, web browser manufacturers, the Obama administration and privacy advocates, progress seemed likely. That was all the way back in February and although the Do Not Track mechanism found its way in all of the three major browsers, its implementation was in doubt from the get-go. That doubt has now fed completely on itself and the whole initiative seems under threat.
Lots of finger pointing
Do Not Track is the bane of advertisers and its main seed of implementation is anchored around cookies—the digital bits of code that allow advertisers to keep track of people and their browsing habits. Advertisers want to keep the present system of dropping cookies onto a user’s computer, while privacy advocates say this is too intrusive. The result is ambivalence around the actual definition of tracking. This ambivalence means that the mechanism for enabling Do Not Track is no closer to being in a more prominent place than it was back in February.
The latest incarnation of Internet Explorer (version 10) has Do Not Track enabled by default, so too does Firefox. But anyone who’s done some browsing will tell you that despite enabling Do Not Track, ads are still able to follow you from website to website. Those pesky cookies are very much alive.
It’s quirks like these that parties have been busy all these months trying to iron out and talks seem to have failed in resolving them. For privacy advocates, advertisers are deliberately clouding the situation in an effort to undermine Do Not Track.
“The advertisers have been extraordinarily obstructionist, raising the same issues over and over again, forcing new issues that were not on the agenda, adding new issues that have been closed, and launching personal attacks,” said Jonathan Mayer, a lead developer for the Do Not Track technology and a prominent privacy advocate.
Do Not Track and its effect on online advertising
Much of the free web is powered by advertising, there’s no way around it. Facebook is free to 1 billion+ people because the company uses its user base as ad inventory. The only way Facebook is able to match a user with an advertiser is through some form of tracking. This underlying function of tracking, maintains those arguing for less regulation, must be kept in place if business is to stay alive on the web.
Marc Groman, executive director of the National Advertising Initiative, a coalition of online advertisers is pretty blunt about what the impact of Do Not Track will do for online commerce. “We have a real concern about using a sledgehammer for a flyswatter problem. Do Not Track will have a disproportionate effect on our stakeholders,” says Groman.
The politicians haven’t weighed in on the stalemate yet, but all signs point to advertisers winning the battle.
Do you think Do Not Track should be a standard part of every web browser? Share your thoughts below.