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What You Need To Know About the "Do-Not-Track" List

By Adam Rosenberg , Web Analyst
Dec 16, 2010

On the heels of consumer uproar about Facebook privacy infractions, it's no surprise that Internet data has attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. In response, the FTC has proposed a regulation that would require all browsers have a Do-Not-Track feature to prevent the tracking of user information.

While intentions are surely good about protecting personally identifiable information, here are some arguments supporting data tracking as a vital part of the modern Internet.

1.  Do-Not-Track already exists.

The ability to prevent most forms of tracking already exists in modern web browsers.  They have options that would prevent the browser from: using JavaScript, allowing third party cookies, allowing any cookies.  Selecting any of these options would indeed disrupt or prevent data collection from many of the most popular analytics tools (Google Analytics, Omniture SiteCatalyst, etc.); however, users will quickly find that disabling these options may degrade their web experience.

2. Marketers collect data to provide a more relevant (read: useful) experience to their users

This FTC proposal would have the same effect as any of the current methods to stop tracking. The majority of webinauts have grown accustomed to receiving free content from a majority of websites; so much information is freely available and that is one of the greatest accomplishments of the Internet age. All of this content is powered by advertising. As tracking and analytics have become more advanced, the value of that advertising has increased significantly.  Without this tracking, the ability to tailor content to specific users will decline, as will the ability to track the performance of campaigns. The inevitable result is a decrease in the value of those advertisements. Without advertisements, content providers will be forced to charge for services that were previously free to users.  

3. A non-personalized or behaviorally targeted web experience would diminish “surfing” on the Web.

Should the FTC succeed, the denizens of the Internet will have to make a choice between protecting their non-personal information and free, customized content.  If the majority of people choose the former, it will alter the landscape of the Internet, as we know it.  Free content will become a rarity instead of the norm, and I would expect this to stifle the growth of the Internet quite a bit. However, I firmly believe that most users will make the smart choice, realizing that the cost of free content is just a bunch of innocuous numbers that cannot be tied to any individual.

Maybe some of you are too young, or were late adopters to the Internet, but I remember the days of animated GIF ads for products totally unrelated to my LA Kings fan site.  That type of advertisement was incredibly injurious to the user experience (not to mention, ineffective). I am much more appreciative of modern, targeted ads and their value.

These ads and the content they pay for are brought to you by data tracking.

Feel free to weigh in on where you stand on this issue.