Debunking Do Not Track Hysteria

There have been industry rumblings around the Do Not Track fervor, even showing up in Pandora’s recent IPO filing as a potentially costly feature of their business plan, yet the end result won’t kill online advertising and commerce as we know it.


In fact, Do Not Track would make audience targeting better. It would allow digital agencies and brands to present the call-to-action pitch only to customers that really want the content available. Digital agencies  and DSP’s that master HTML5’s coming privacy controls will exist in a world with higher ROI, more detailed metrics as users online recognize that they must opt-in for the most basic content access and a more efficient, creative ad ecosystem.
The simple fact is, despite those forecasting doom, content providers and marketers will adjust. Want to watch an MTV awards show or get that hot Groupon deal? Sorry! if consumers opt-out, they lose out on any tracking-enabled content and deals built around the flow of metrics and interactivity. Banner ads on that Facebook page? That might be blocked as well, at least if the consumer intends to share videos or content from a commercial group or fan page. Would this work theoretically? Since most users are looking for goods, services or being social, the opt-out notion may be only for that rare breed that doesn’t share or buy anything. Those people are not only rare but are pretty much useless to marketers anyway.
The idea that Microsoft wants to kill advertising with its latest version of Internet Explorer is as ridiculous as the idea that the current form of the proposal will be a “Google killer” as some have stated. The tracking-protection proposal is Microsoft’s way of thinning the audience herd — allowing the content and the ad ecosystem to optimize the application of resources efforts in connecting with consumers.
How so? The language is unflinchingly stringent, as is the reference to “an image, a cookie, HTML, a script that can execute” as potential targets for the proposed standard. This would alter not only content access, but the way that websites and applications function, even if no tracking was employed. Ajax, for example, is script and powers the animation of many premium content websites. It’s also a vehicle for connecting user data with third-party sites.
Will the proposal hamper website navigation as well? Even if users have the option to separate various types of script from the browser’s “block rules” only a small percentage of users will have the tech savvy to know exactly what they are blocking on a website.  The burden of having to make a foray into light programming to casually browse an online magazine would potentially disconnect all but the hardiest news junkies. That just isn’t going to happen.
An excerpt from Microsoft’s submission lays out the ramifications for users  employing a Do Not Track option.”A user agent must evaluate any URIs that indicate a sub-document—such as an iframe or any URIs defined in any sub-documents—as third-party with respect to the topmost document.” That means a user will have to agree to allow not only downloads, but even to view an image. Again, that just isn’t going to happen. This is a question of control versus ease of use. The safe money’s on people choosing simplicity. Consumers, as a rule, don’t like lots of unnecessary clicks. Having to update permissions just to look at the Oscar’s best dressed list or find a local restaurant coupon is an unworkable content and commerce killer that no one, not even Microsoft, could really envision coming to life.
The ad ecosystem, from digital outdoor to display, runs on instant access and real-time data. Ensuring that users are on-board with consumer tracking by forcing them to opt-in or view a barren page is good for search engines and platforms alike. No one will be at your brand’s website and be stunned a full-page takeover display, because they’ve already opted-in for the ride.
Then there’s the shopping factor. Consumers know that commerce requires data to tailor offers and geographically-linked information to enhance their shopping experience. Blocking tracking defeats the purpose of e-commerce, getting the right product into the hands of a motivated consumer. Microsoft’s proposal, if implemented in the final stages of HTML5, will probably entail a “once and for all” opt-in for e-commerce, perhaps employing the proposals directive for processingmultiple filter lists, that allows for opt-in rules to be managed in bulk.
Microsoft isn’t insane. The final incarnation of the proposal, if it is adopted, will probably be a watered-down version that allows basic web functionality but allows users to block certain types of ads that they really find unbearable. Most consumers won’t, because there’s too much virtual candy hidden in tracked content. Microsoft is, although not mad, perhaps creating an opening salvo on a playing field upon which every web user is truly a potential consumer and the bloodsport that is advertising will finally have to match content in terms of creativity and consumer engagement to keep viewers online.

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