Association of National Advertisers CEO Bob Liodice hasn't been shy about expressing his opposition to Microsoft's coming Internet Explorer 10 web browser, which will ship with a "do-not-track" feature as a default setting. The browser "will likely cause irreparable damage to the advertising industry," he said at the ANA annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., last week.
But while the ANA has been forceful in its opposition to Microsoft's approach, the individual members of the organization had varied views on the issue, and while most said they support the ANA's position, the bigger issue they see is confusion it creates for consumers.
Wendy Clark, senior VP-integrated marketing communications and capabilities at Coca-Cola, said brands, including Microsoft, shouldn't be assuming choices for consumers. "All we want is an opportunity for consumers to make their own choice rather than have the choice made for them."
Ms. Clark said the name itself, do not track, puts people off, but what isn't explained is how the web will change for consumers when publishers and advertisers can't identify visitors through anonymous tracking technologies.
"One of the things lost in this debate is consumers will have a materially different experience online," she said. "And I think we've got to champion that more loudly."
The ANA originally published its open letter against Microsoft's decision Oct. 1, just before the company was to pitch benefits of its new Windows 8 operating system during Advertising Week in New York. The issue remained high on the ANA's agenda last week, too, even if individual advertisers said it won't make them stop buying ads from Microsoft.
Asked if the controversy would affect his advertising relationship with Microsoft, P&G Global Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard replied: "Nah." He would, however, have preferred Microsoft to prompt a choice for people who install the new browser, rather than go with a default setting. (Microsoft will prompt a choice when installing the browser, but the default will be do not track.)
"I wish there were a really simple way to make sure that consumers knew what their choices were and even knew the implications of their choices," Mr. Pritchard said, acknowledging that explaining the issue clearly to consumers and making the choice simple is both a technology and a communications challenge.
Walmart Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Quinn, incoming chairman of the ANA board and another signatory of the letter to Microsoft, likewise said he doesn't expect the controversy to affect the retailer's advertising decisions.
Mr. Quinn said his biggest issue is that the default setting will negatively affect the online user experience for many people "who won't know why."
He described do not track as "not as big an issue for Walmart as for some other advertisers," pointing to Unilever VP-Global Media Rob Master as having been particularly vocal about the issue among board members. (Mr. Master declined to comment by deadline.)
Mr. Quinn said Microsoft's decision to stick with the default setting "doesn't seem like something that was unplanned on their part," adding that the company must "be willing to take the flack" because it needs the feature for competitive reasons.
That said, Microsoft shows no sign of backing down as both sides try to assume a position on the high ground of consumer choice. In an e-mail statement Friday the company said its consumer survey showed the default DNT setting was preferred by 75% of PC users in the U.S. and Europe.
In an email statement, Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch said the default DNT approach "is part of our commitment to privacy by design and putting people first. … We also believe that targeted advertising can be beneficial to both consumers and businesses. As such, we will continue to work toward an industry-wide definition of tracking protection."
Mr. Lynch said that in the "express settings" portion of its Windows 8 operating system "consumers can easily switch DNT off if they'd like."
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