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.

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More recently, the ad industry got its boxers in a bunch after Mozilla announced it was thinking about blocking third-party cookies – like the type used to deliver ads and track user behavior --  in an upcoming version of Firefox. Per Dan Jaffe, president of the Association of National Advertisers:

Mozilla’s initiative is extraordinarily counterproductive for consumers and business. If the company moves forward, consumers will be herded into a new browsing environment where Mozilla will make choices for them. Blocking third party cookies by default sends the false message to consumers that [online behavioral advertising] is inherently bad without providing any meaningful background knowledge describing the innumerable benefits of being served relevant ads.

In other words, the ad/tracking cartel is fine with user choice – so long as you choose them.

4. Redefining “free”

The key argument you’ll hear about why tracking is necessary comes down to what you’re paying to read this - which is to say, nothing. Without tracking, advertisers argue, the “free” Web will cease to exist. Some ad execs have even gone so far to claim that Do Not Track “will ultimately kill free speech” by putting Web sites like the one you’re now reading out of business. Yeah, really.

Won’t someone please think of the publishers?

The real reason is of course money. Behavioral tracking enables ad networks to bid for specific types of users and thus collect more money. If your Web profile describes you as a home owner with an income exceeding $100k who recently went shopping for insurance, you might be worth .02 or .03 pennies per page view instead of .01. Who collects most of that “extra” money? Why, the ad networks, auctioneers, and the people who make tracking technology, of course.

It’s reminiscent of the RIAA arguing about how it’s really just trying to protect “the artists” from online pirates, while stiffing actual artists out of their online royalties.

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