Four reasons why Do Not Track turned into Do Not Trust

It's hard to agree on a privacy standard when neither side can agree about the definition of four common English words.


It’s gotten ugly out there, folks.

It’s been about a year and a half since the FTC stopped waffling about online tracking legislation, locked privacy advocates and the online advertising industry into a room together, and said “work out your differences.” 

The idea was to come up with a Do Not Track standard that everyone, privacy nerds and advertisers alike, could live with. Well, guess what, privacy fans? It hasn’t worked out. And the odds of it working out now are roughly the same as Florida Gulf Coast University winning the NCAA Final Four.

Why is that, you might ask? Well there are several reasons, but I think they all boil down to this: The ad industry and its various cohorts never had any intention of letting it work out. And why would they? There’s nothing in it for them. In fact, the only motivation ad/trackers had was the threat of legislation that might end up being worse than anything they and the geeks could work out. But the odds of anything with any teeth passing through both houses of Congress at this point are pretty slim.

From my vantage point, deep in the bleacher seats, the ad industry and its cohorts seemed to be interested in drawing the process out for as long as possible so they could say “heck, we tried and it’s impossible, now leave us alone.”

Why do I say that? Consider how the online ad/tracking industry has attempted to redefine the English language, and you can see how Do Not Track has morphed into Do Not Trust.

1. Redefining “track”

Bill Clinton took verbal parsing to a new level when he responded to the Lewinsky grand jury, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is,’ is.” For the last four years the ad industry has been attempting to do the same thing with the word “track.”

When most humans think of Web tracking, they probably think of someone or something recording what they do as they surf from site to site on the Net. But when the online ad industry says “track” they really mean “target ads based on your Web surfing history.”

So when an ad network says you can opt out of tracking, they actually mean “you can elect to not see targeted ads, but we’ll still collect all of that information about you so we can add it to your profile.”

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