What Consumer Reports failed to disclose is that its own
website, ConsumerReports.org, is laden with the full array of
advertising-tracking technologies -- the very ones they're telling
consumers to take action against.
The site is home to reviews of cars, electronics, home
appliances and even cardiologists -- and, it turns out, it hosts a
slew of third-party ad and analytics tags.
The tags allow Consumer Reports to track users who have visited
its site and later target ads to them through the networks and
exchanges associated with the tags. For instance, according to ad
monitoring firm Moat.com, display ads from Consumer Reports
promoting its subscription service were spotted online this month
on sites including About.com and ThinkComputers.org. They may have
been aimed at users who had visited ConsumerReports.org.
Using Ghostery's software, Ad Age found tags from more
than ten third-party advertising companies on the site, including
Yahoo's Blue Lithium and Right Media, Google-owned DoubleClick and
Invite Media, Dataxu, and Valueclick.
The organization made no mention of its ad tracking or how
consumers could opt-out of the tracking in its campaign
The Consumers Union site further argues, "as new rules are about
to be finalized by all the different companies who must abide by
them, the online advertising industry and its trade groups are
backing out of that commitment."
But the reality is far less black and white. The Digital
Advertising Alliance trade coalition which oversees the ad
industry's self-regulated privacy initiative recently told its
members that they could ignore signals from Microsoft's Internet
Explorer, which is set to do-no-track by default when first
installed by a user.
Yahoo also said it would disregard IE's DNT notifications on its
own properties. The argument here is that Microsoft is making the
choice, not the user. And while fair-minded people can debate what
the standard should be, the ad industry did agree on one, and is
not backing off from it.
The groups working toward a browser-based Do Not Track standard
don't appear to be very close to "finalizing" it, either, as the
Consumers Union site claims. The Federal Trade Commission has been
working directly with the industry's DAA coalition, along with some
of the major browser makers, mainly Google and Microsoft.
Meanwhile, Firefox maker Mozilla is a key member of the World
Wide Web Consortium's working group charged with establishing
technical specs for a browser-based DNT standard. The FTC is
backing that initiative, of which the online ad industry has grown
So, while the latest versions of IE, Firefox, Google Chrome, and
Apple Safari do allow
users to enable DNT, standards for whether or how online trackers
should acknowledge those browser signals have yet to be agreed upon
by government, advertisers, privacy advocates or the browser
A spokesman for the organization has said it will provide a
statement to Ad Age once they look into the matter. We'll publish
it when it comes.
The email sent out to Consumer Report readers:
Someone is following you around. At least, online they are.
When you go online, you unwittingly give companies lots of
information about yourself based on the sites you visit, the
searches you run, the movies you watch and more.
Trackers say that online tracking is good because it helps
deliver ads that will interest you. That's fine, if that's what you
choose. But right now, you can't effectively say "No."
It's time to stop the unwanted tracking once and for all!
Although polls show that most of us would prefer more privacy
and less tracking, advertising companies have no incentive to abide
by our wishes.
The advertising companies want to be able to track you
Your lawmakers should tell the ad companies to respect your
Do you know others who may be concerned about their privacy when
they go online? Please forward this email to them so they can show
their support too.
President, Consumer Reports
101 Truman Ave
Yonkers, NY 10703