The FTC recently announced a proposal to let consumers opt out of all the tracking that occurs when they browse the Internet, also known as the do-not-track list. As an Internet marketer, I should hate this, but I think it’s a great thing for everybody — including us marketers.
Now, I know the Direct Marketing Association and other critics will complain that a do-not-track list will destroy e-commerce by hurting online businesses that depend on this data. But similar data privacy already exists in the European Union with no ill effects, and in any case, parasitic data tracking is what enables the proliferation of low quality sites around the Internet. A do-not-track list encourages companies to engage with us directly, providing actual value in exchange for our data and preferences, and that’s good thing.
When you look at the proposal itself, it actually turns out to be a little more ambitious than it initially sounds, since it makes opting out of tracking the default. So even if you do nothing, companies can’t gather this data, which is how it already works in the European Union. Frankly, this makes the most sense: very few Internet users can understand all the ways in which they are tracked, and websites have zero interest in making it easy for customers to see how they keep or use their data. Case in point: the generally privacy-hating Facebook.
Facebook does not want you to opt out of information sharing, because doing so would reduce the value of their advertising and thus the company as a whole. Therefore they create purposefully difficult and obfuscated privacy controls, knowing full well that most consumers can’t figure out how to use them. Thus they get the fig leaf of privacy while leaving you naked to aggressive marketing.
Dictionary.com is another example. Look up a single word on Dictionary.com and you will pick up over 200 tracking cookies, as the Wall Street Journal found. Those are immediately shared with companies around the Internet. Some sites even have scripts that can rifle through your browser history. Isn’t this something you want to know and would like to control?
I contend that a do-not-track policy is a good thing for marketers — that is, for good marketers. Good marketers create a direct, mutually beneficial experience with customers. They ask for data and get it, when they provide something of benefit to customers. Good marketers (like Apple, say) use transparent marketing channels to find new customers, and use branding to create loyalty. They don’t need to rifle through your browser history to understand you; they use their brains and your choices to identify and present what you want at the right time. And this is what you want as a consumer.
Plus we don’t need the sites that depend on this data. This kind of data sharing only allows bad websites to monetize themselves, encouraging them to gain traffic by hook or by crook, with munged content, deceptive offers, and parasitic scripts. They add no value to the Internet and create a climate of fear and mistrust. I say good riddance to any company that “dies” as a result of the do-not-track list.
In summary, a do-not-track list will restore our privacy on the Internet, kill off parasitic sites, and encourage more creative, more intelligent marketing. What’s wrong with that? If you agree or disagree, I’d love to see your comment below.