Do-Not-Track: Web Tracking – the New Bogey Man

For those of you who are just learning about it, ‘Do-Not-Track’ is a movement spearheaded by the FTC to involve government in the regulation of the gathering and use of consumer information via online technologies such as ‘cookies’ – little packets of text sent back and forth between a web browser and the server it accesses to collect web browser user information. The leading browsers, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Microsoft IE, responded immediately by adding “opt-out” tools that allow browser users to select the types of cookies and information they will allow access to.

“Tracking” is a misunderstood practice and is being vilified as the new “bogey man’ of the internet. Your average, everyday consumers imagine that every personal and vital piece of information about them is being gathered and stored to use against them in some horrible way. This simply is not accurate. It is true that computer hackers are stealing personal information for profit or malicious activities. Ad and web tracking applications, on the other hand, are interested in user profiles. Ad companies want to send targeted ads and information that is deduced as being of interest to targeted recipients (also known as content targeting or behavioral targeting) so that the ad has the most impact by reaching the right audience. They also want to know how well those messages are received and what respondents do once they interact with them.

Business owners who use web tracking applications simply want to understand, first of all, if their target audience groups are finding their web content and then how they are interacting with it. Google Analytics, for example, is a very popular web tracking application used to track user behavior with all web media, including web advertising and websites. It uses cookies in order to provide meaningful reports about site visitors and does not collect personal data about your website visitors.

The FTC wants to let consumers know they are watching out for their best interests, as always. And it desires the industry to understand, as stated by FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, that it “wants to help ensure that the growing, changing, thriving information marketplace is built on a framework that promotes privacy, transparency, business innovation, and consumer choice. We believe that’s what most Americans want as well… This proposal is intended to inform policymakers, including Congress, as they develop solutions, policies, and potential laws governing privacy, and guide and motivate industry as it develops more robust and effective best practices and self-regulatory guidelines.”

The most salient point the FTC is making concerns privacy. Web users believe, correctly or not, that they have a right to privacy. As a web media owner, publisher, or advertiser, it behooves you to demonstrate that you respect that need for privacy, like it or not. Be transparent about the type of information you are gathering and how you intend to use it. Remember, many web users are mystified by or fearful of technology. Through honest, transparent practices we can all work together to show people that there’s no tracking ‘bogey man’ to fear.

Please share your views about the “Do Not Track” policy. What are your beliefs, concerns, understandings, opinions, experiences, or anything else that would help shed some light on this issue?