Privacy advocates are making considerable headway when it comes to behavioral targeting online. The Wall Street Journal’s famous expose on the subject of tracking cookies kick started a national debate over the scope of internet advertising. This prompted a Federal Trade Commission report that delved into the perceived problem in order to identify potential solutions.
Among their suggestions are an official Do Not Track List, akin to the Do Not Call List that’s being ignored by telemarketers nationwide, as well as a browser based mechanism to facilitate consume choice.
Yesterday, Microsoft stepped into the forefront in terms of early compliance with pending legislation. The company announced that Internet Explorer 9 will include a so-called “tracking protection” feature that pinpoints and subsequently blocks unwanted pixels. Additionally, IE9 will feature a “tracking protection list”. While this sounds rather simplistic, it is designed to combat the latent functions of the web 2.0 experience by disabling third party data sharing. The list will consist of sites that won’t have access to the user’s information unless he or she visits them on purpose.
Participation is voluntary, although consumers should make an informed decision before rushing into anything. Be aware that enabling the safeguards carries its own set of consequences. For example, this might render some sites useless or restrict access to a wide variety of content. Almost every website relies on these types of partnerships and many major retailers employ retargeting technology. IE9’s platform permits users to be selective about whom they choose to ignore, but accessing the more advanced settings could prove difficult for some people.
Overall, these discussions should not alarm those in the online marketing industry. The web thrives on free content because of advertising; nothing short of a paid internet is going to alter that dynamic. Besides, the new IE9 system is eerily similar to the Firefox add-on AdBlock, which has been available for a while now. Roughly 12 million people have downloaded it, though there’s no telling how many of them still utilize the software. Firefox is currently the #1 browser, so the folks at Microsoft are basically trying to play catch up. Another possibility involves Microsoft trying to convince the government that this market is capable of policing itself.