After Bitter Fight, Industry To Embrace “Browser Choice” (AKA Do Not Track)

online privacyThe online advertising industry has apparently done an about-face on “Do Not Track” (DNT). According to AdWeek the Digital Advertising Alliance will soon unveil a DNT solution that will euphemistically be called “browser choice.”

The article says, “The final product will include some of the same hallmarks of the DAA’s ad choices self-regulatory program, which allows consumers to opt-out of online behaviorally-targeted advertising by clicking on a little blue icon that appears on ads.”

Specifics of how “browser choice” will work have yet to be revealed. However it won’t affect first-party publishers (e.g., the New York Times); it will be directed toward third-party networks and data collection.

The DAA asserts that there will be universal buy-in from publishers, networks and marketers and there reportedly won’t be any challenges with compliance. Previous DNT moves have met with resistance by ad networks. For example, many ad platforms/networks said they would simply ignore IE 10′s default DNT browser settings.

Surveys suggest DNT browser features would be extremely popular with consumers. One recent survey from a company called Communispace found that 87 percent of respondents would enable or click a DNT button if it were available.

A separate 2013 survey from a group called Consumer Action found that 83 percent of consumers would prefer DNT as the default browser setting, as long as they have the capacity to turn ad targeting/tracking back on.

These consumer positions are deeply at odds with increasingly sophisticated data mining and the combination of data sets by marketers. However few consumers want to be left only with “Christian singles” and “acai berries” ads.

The central problems are ones of consumer education and trust. Consumers generally want relevant advertising but don’t entirely understand how that process works behind the scenes. The existing “ad choices”  initiative doesn’t really do the job.

More transparency, straightforward communication and measures that instill consumer confidence that their data won’t be improperly exploited can help reconcile consumer and advertiser interests. It remains to be seen whether the industry will step up to that fundamental challenge.


Yesterday Yahoo announced that it was abandoning DNT, citing a lack of standards: “We have yet to see a single standard emerge that is effective, easy to use and has been adopted by the broader tech industry.”

This announcement appears to contradict the DAA report above. Alternatively Yahoo may be ready to jump on board if the DAA and “browser choice” can generate industry consensus. If there is no consensus, I suspect we’ll see the FTC get back involved.

Related Topics: Channel: Industry | Features & Analysis | Legal: Privacy | Top News


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • ReevesJB

    This widely expected move still doesn’t seem to resolve the fundamental problems with a DNT standard, though: compliance and enforcement. Why comply with this standard, when the the W3C’s isn’t any better?

    Consumers voice contradictory desires – they don’t want “tracking,” but they do want tailored discounts. Consumer polling on the issue varies widely depending on the wording used too.

    I don’t see this effort going anywhere soon. My thoughts from the breakdown of the W3C’s efforts last year are here, if anyone’s interested:

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