Don’t track me, bro: Ad industry whines while privacy wonks waffle

Microsoft's plan to make Do Not Track the default in IE10 has been killed dead by the ad industry. Anybody surprised?

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In fact, according to a survey by Omnicom Media Group, more than 90 percent of Internet users know they are being tracked and would consider using a DNT feature. More than half say they want complete control over what’s being tracked.

(The folks at Ensighten, who make tag management systems for enterprises to help them comply with privacy requirements, have worked up a wicked cool infographic showing the Do Not Track story from all perspectives. You can view the whole schmear here.)

The ad industry is doing everything it can to look like it is playing along with the FTC’s desire to assuage concerns about online tracking, while putting as many barriers in front of consumers as they possibly can.

Whenever I write about Do Not Track (and I’m usually strongly in favor of that notion) I hear from sources in the online ad community who feel very strongly that I am advocating the demise of sites like ITworld and its ilk, if not the entire “free” Internet, by destroying the advertising model these sites rely on. (Though they apparently don’t feel strongly enough to attach their names to any of these statements.)

So I have a question for the ad guys in the audience. Let’s say a miracle happens and it’s suddenly easy for tens of millions of Netizens to say they don’t want their movements tracked across the Web by 800+ companies they’ve never heard of. Let’s say it’s even a majority of the people who go online.

What are you going to do – stop advertising on the Web? Are you going to take the $32 billion you spent last year on Internet ads and pour them into bus benches and billboards? I don’t think so. But you will pour more money into smart TVs and smart phones, where the tracking battles have yet to be fought.

This is why it’s important to set DNT straight now – and give consumers the right to Just Say No.

There’s another option, of course. Split the Internet into free and paid versions. Offer an ad-supported version where tracking is explicit and the surfing is free, and an option where privacy is guaranteed for a fee. Will people actually pay for stuff they’re used to getting for free? I don’t know.

But the fact is, we’re not getting this stuff for free. We are paying for it with our data. The ultimate price for that is something no one can put a dollar figure on.

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