Should the FTC set up a ‘Do Not Track’ database for online marketing?

    by Mark Glaser
    November 26, 2007

    With the rise of behavorial marketing online — where marketers serve ads based on where you’ve gone online — there’s also a rising concern about how much privacy we are giving up. Do we realize that marketers are tracking the sites we visit online and that we would need to erase our computer cookies in order to keep that info private? The Federal Trade Commission met to discuss privacy concerns at a public hearing earlier this month, and consumer groups said the FTC should set up a “Do Not Track” database for people to opt out of online tracking (similar to the “Do Not Call” database for telemarketers). But if enough people opt out of tracking, they might also be taking away online publishers’ most effective way of making money. What do you think? Do you care about the way marketers do behavioral or targeted advertising online, and what are you doing about it proactively, if anything? Share your thoughts in the comments and I’ll run the best ones in a future Your Take Roundup.

    Tagged: advertising comments privacy
    • Something like this exists already: It’s called your hosts file, and there are some really easy-to-use tools out there that can help you take advantage of it… of course, the phrase “hosts file” is enough to make the non-techy flee flee flee for the hills, so maybe the FTC could use the idea and make it palatable with a name like “Fuzzy-Block” or “TrackrKillr” …

    • In fact, there’s already an industry Do Not Track list available for that will prevent tracking by most major (and legitimate) ad networks. The Network Advertising Initiative (http://www.networkadvertising.org/) allows you to opt-out of tracking and the major ad networks support it.

      I can see a valid argument for pushing for greater notice of the NAI opt-out (it tends to show up only in publisher privacy policies – several networks only work with publishers once the opt-out notice is in their policy).

      That said, regardless of what’s out there already, it’s a complicated problem. As you suggest here, if too many people opt-out publishers and networks will suffer. However, that’s only one side – clearly you can argue advertisers suffer. Advertisers based on direct marketing/performance type deals lose out on more effective targeting and have to spend considerably more to reach the same sales.

      But the third part is that users suffer too. As long proper steps are taken to keep users private (make the data non-identifiable) and the data isn’t abused in any other ways, users benefit from targeted advertising. Rather than a random clutter of useless ads, the user can actually see ads of value to them. The message isn’t irrelevant and a waste of the user’s screen real estate and time, but rather something that may actually drive value for them, the publisher/network, and the advertiser.

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