Tensions Rise Over “Do Not Track” Rules

ZDNet offers a rundown on the current, increasingly tense state of “do not track” (DNT) negotiations. The W3C standards body is trying to develop a DNT standard and ad-industry trade groups are essentially trying to derail it.

Simply put, DNT is part of a larger set of consumer privacy protections first proposed by the US FTC in 2010 after an extended period of hearings on online behavioral targeting.

Microsoft caused quite a stir in online marketing circles in May when it said that Internet Explorer 10 would be set to DNT by default. This stunned and angered ad-industry professionals. However Microsoft said at the time that was seeking to build trust among consumers and give them more control over their data, while acknowledging the importance of advertising.

The Digital Advertising Alliance, a kind of meta trade group comprised of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the IAB, the DMA, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Advertising Federation said earlier this week that it simply wouldn’t honor the IE browser’s DNT settings, which are voluntary. The DAA was set up to self-regulate online behavioral targeting and preempt federal regulatory intervention.

Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project (n=2,000 US adults) Q1, 2012

Consumers overwhelmingly dislike the notion that they’re being tracked and targeted online. However they do prefer “relevant” ads. This seeming contradiction or paradox has been true for some time. Interestingly, search marketing is one of the few (if not the only) forms of online advertising that can reconcile this conflict.

The debate over DNT is not unlike earlier debates over organic food labeling. Industry and agri-business sought to dilute the federal organic standard while consumer groups sought to preserve and protect stricter rules. The result was somewhere in the middle. However unlike organic food labeling consumers have little or no awareness and understanding of DNT or the Byzantine online advertising ecosystem and data exchanges it potentially threatens.

Much in this debate depends on the outcome of the US presidential election. A second Obama administration and a more Democrat-heavy Congress would probably seek to pass some sort of online privacy legislation (which has been stalled in both houses). A Romney administration and a Republican-controlled Congress would be far less interested and would be more inclined to support the “status-quo” desires of the trade associations.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Legal: Privacy


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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