Meet the Big Online Marketing Firm That Wants 'Do-Not-Track' Legislation

Consumers Should Be Able to Opt Out of Targeting, but Websites Should Also Be Able to Block Those Who Do

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Steven Vine
Steven Vine
It may surprise some to see a leading online marketing technology company ask for legislation, but that's just what we're doing. The online marketing industry should encourage Congress to pass do-not-track legislation this year. And as I will suggest below, if this legislation includes a few minimum conditions, we can get something done soon that will benefit consumers and, we think, marketers as well.

Why We Support Do-Not-Track
Our industry should support do-not-track legislation because:

  • First and foremost, it is the right thing for consumers. Many consumers just do not like being tracked. We should respect this, and let them opt out.
  • Second, done right, legislation will incentivize innovation, as well as the adoption of best practices.
  • Third and far from least, a good law, by making consumers feel safe, will help big brands feel comfortable spending online.

Nearly every day someone argues that targeted advertising improves the consumer experience. David Moore, chairman of 24/7 RealMedia Inc., said in a recent Wall Street Journal series, "When an ad is targeted properly, it ceases to be an ad, it becomes important information." If we really believe that, then let's give consumers control. Control requires more than just the option to be tracked or not. True control gives consumers Meaningful Choices.

Meaningful Choices
A global opt-out is a sledgehammer. While a sledgehammer is exactly what a few consumers are looking for, most would prefer a scalpel. Look at Google's Preference Manager, where "compared to the number of people who choose to opt out entirely, four times more people merely edit their categories, while ten times more people do nothing at all."

A network opt-out might work if consumers cared who delivers an ad. They don't, though, and once a global do-not-track is available, network opt-outs will become redundant.

Meaningful choices are options that consumers can understand, like adjusting preferences according to their feelings about particular advertisers, and to apply their preferences across networks, so they can set their preferences once.

At the end of the chain -- after the publisher, ad network, ad server, ad technology, data provider, demand side platform, and agency, have all contributed their piece to the ad delivery puzzle – there is the advertiser. It is on the advertiser's behalf that everyone else acts. Advertisers pay the bills, and will pay more for granular data and sophisticated targeting. Without those tools, many take their business elsewhere. Only by giving consumers the tools to hold the advertiser responsible will consumers gain a meaningful outlet for dissatisfaction. Only those tools will give the advertiser the incentive to engage in the best privacy practices. Requiring advertiser-level choices will lead to increased trust, an improved experience and innovation in cross-network preference management.

Limited but Important Conditions
A few clear conditions should be part of any do-not-track law. Broadly, the do-not-track should apply only to tracking users through a collection of individual behaviors across third-party websites for the purpose of delivering advertisements targeted at an individual user. More specifically, any do-not-track legislation should encourage adoption of the industry's Self-Regulatory Principles. Good intentions and a lot of hard work by our industry's leading organizations prompted the development of the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising. An enhanced-notice requirement will be important, and will address many legitimate consumer concerns, such as the use of sensitive data.

  • Do not limit first-party tracking and targeting. First-party tracking and targeting drive great consumer experience online, and are already transparent. It would be a mistake to require, for example, to disable its useful on-site recommendation engine for those who join a do-not-track registry.
  • Do not limit tracking for other purposes, such as analytics. Analytics, measurement, and attribution do not raise the same privacy issues as behavioral profiling, and are needed to support the basic business operations of online services. If the scope of do-not-track limits activities beyond behavioral tracking and targeting, it will trade substantial harm to the industry and consumer experience for a marginal enhancement of privacy.
  • Subsequent express permission must be allowed to override a previous do-not-track request. Targeted advertising is and will remain essential to support most of the web's content and services. Web sites supported by targeted advertising should be free to deny consumers access unless the consumers give permission to be targeted. The ability to make this tradeoff clear will inspire the development of multiple online business models. Just as with do not call, companies must be able to obtain an individual's subsequent permission to override a previous do-not-track request.

Support Do Not Track Now
Our collective inaction on privacy has left a void that Congress is ready to fill. If we work with legislators and regulators, our self-regulatory efforts can be made more powerful. It should be our goal to develop a simple legislative and regulatory solution that works with industry for the collective benefit of consumers and our industry. Do-not-track legislation, done right, is the best opportunity we will have to achieve that goal.

Steven Vine, Esq. is Datran Media's chief privacy officer.
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