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‘Do Not Track’ Still Unsettled

1 Aug, 2012 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – A lack of agreement on the “Do Not Track” option that can be put on websites to give consumers more control of their personal information online could lead to legislators stepping in with a crackdown, Reuters reports.

Internet companies and privacy groups are having little luck deciding just how tight these kinds of controls should be. The result? Worry – specifically among companies, such as Google and Facebook, that rely on that user data. They believe legislation could lead to less online advertising and less profit. Industry reports show that targeting has almost tripled what brands pay websites to run ads. U.S. online ad revenue was just shy of $15 billion in the first half of 2011, 23 percent higher than the previous year.

But after 10 months of talks, nothing is near settled. In fact, reports are that the two sides can’t even agree on what “Do Not Track” means. On one side, privacy advocates want consumers to be able to surf the Web without companies collecting online activities for profit. To the industry, however, it means not targeting ads to a consumer based on their Web viewing history, but data collection would continue for other purposes.

Some companies have not been honest about how they exploit their users’ movements on the Internet. That has threatened to drive users away and sink revenues. In the meantime, the White House is seeking to keep the sides at the table to reach a deal. And, if agreement is not reached by 2013, lawmakers may step in and enforce Internet privacy.

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a nonprofit active in policing privacy, told Reuters, “We want to reduce the profile, the data footprint of citizens who increasingly spend a lot of time online today.”

Linda Woolley, acting president at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), said if data collection ends, so does the Internet.

In December 2010, the Federal Trade Commission issued a privacy report that called for a “Do Not Track” system that would allow people to avoid having their actions monitored online. One week later, Microsoft announced that its next browser would include support for Tracking Protection Lists, that block tracking of consumers using blacklists supplied by third parties.

In January 2011, Mozilla announced that its Firefox browser would soon provide a “Do Not Track” solution, via a browser header. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Apple’s Safari and Opera all later added support for the header approach. Google Chrome supports “Do Not Track” by its official extensions. In June 2012, Microsoft announced that “Do Not Track” would be activated by default in Internet Explorer 10.

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