Advertisers say that if they can’t track you online, your favorite websites will die. They’re wrong.
There is lots of bad TV, and lots of bad Internet. Reducing either would be a public service of incalculable proportions. But just as some broadcasters raise the possibility of Armageddon if ad-avoiding tech like TiVo proliferates, online marketers are now making the same empty threats about the Internet. They say that rich Internet “content” would disappear if something called Do Not Track became the standard.
Do Not Track isn’t the default setting of any major Web browser, even though all offer the option to “opt-in” to a private life — to send a signal to advertisers that, on this occasion, in this window, at this time I don’t want you to make use of my surfing behavior to profile me for the sole purpose of creating ads that marketers think have greater personal appeal and are more valuable.
Opting in is going to be the default in the next version of Microsoft’s ubiquitous Internet Explorer Web browser, due out any time now. Many thought Microsoft would be our best hope to change the balance of power (how the tables have turned!), of not having to take extra precautions to prevent an intrusion to which we really should not be subjected. But Microsoft’s bullheadedness (on behalf of users for a change) has prompted the advertising community to decide to ignore Internet Explorer 10’s “do not track” signal. This means, ironically, that IE 10 will be worthless as the pioneering stealth browser it was meant to be.
That the advertisers are pushing back, declaring what amounts to thermonuclear war in the privacy campaign, might raise the profile of a critical issue. Until now it’s been so far under the radar that most people a) don’t know that they have privacy controls on their browsers and b) don’t know they need them.