Do Not Track List?

by Stephen Pitts on November 4, 2007

Do Not Track List - Anonymous Online? announced that privacy groups are proposing the creation of an Internet do-not-track list:

In addition to the list, the proposal calls for a requirement that advertisers, as part of their online ads, instantaneously disclose details of what they intend to track. According to a media alert announcing the news conference, the groups behind the proposal include the Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others.

In the same article, interesting regarding online advertising:

According to a Forrester report on consumer attitudes toward advertising from November 2006, there are three main sources of advertising irritation to consumers: ads are too numerous, disruptive and irrelevant.

AOL has already preempted possible legislation by allowing users to opt out of behavioral tracking:

AOL Will Let Consumers Opt Out of Targeted Ads from the Wall Street Journal reports that AOL will announce today a new tool that will enable AOL users to opt out of targeted or personalized ads. (NOTE: The AOL announcement is now live).

AOL has behavioral ad technology that stores consumer’s preferences and then tailors ads based on the sites’ users’ visits. AOL is expected to announce a system that will give these users the ability to opt out of those ads. from SEL

Janet Meiners of Marketing Pilgrim noted:

Personal information about everyone is used in a variety of ways, and it’s not just when you are surfing the Internet. Google’s Gmail serves up ads based on what you write in an email. For example, you write that you’re feeling down and you start seeing ads on how to combat depression. MySpace enables advertisers to place ads based on what you write about yourself on your profile.

So, what is the point to online advertising? Online advertising provides for many products and services that the general public enjoys:

  • Information
  • Education
  • Email
  • Social interactions
  • Speech
  • Entertainment
  • Shopping

Where to begin… what is the value of online marketers providing advertising to potential customers? Really, the concept of online advertising as we now know it was revolutionized by Google with AdWords but what did it really mean? They made it possible to offer products and services to online users and have marketers foot the bill and be profitable.

Consumers might want the federal government to build this “do not track” list, however, unlike the “do not call” list, online marketers do not send messages or invade user’s privacy by disturbing their space, it is initiated by the users. The other main difficulty would be that people do not own their IP address, they borrow them from online service providers.

Marketers will argue that everyone is in the purchase cycle for some product or service. Many websites offer information to consumers to help them at all levels of their purchasing cycle. When I am researching information about, say a car, I am in the purchase cycle and would expect to see advertising about cars, even specific models that I am researching. If I see an ad for something totally unrelated, I am less likely to click on the ad, thus, I am not a potential customer for that product.

Users may not realize this, but the reason for all of the wonderful information that is available online is because of online marketers. The Internet is not owned and operated by any government, it is owned by everyone that is online and provides the information that the Internet is made of.

It is unrealistic to say that someone that walks into a store can expect the store not to be able to know who is in their store, so why should an online retailer? Can a store be sued if a clerk offers a suggestion for a similar product when a customer asks about a different one?

What about behavioral targeting that has proven to be useful and embraced by consumers? One that many have used is Amazon’s suggested products. Will this go away if legislation is passed?

What will happen, we will have to see.

Are you an online marketer? If so, what is your reaction to this proposed list?

If not, what is your reaction to this idea?

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