Do Not Track and It’s Impact on Behavioral Targeting

- February 16, 2011

Privacy groups have had their sights set on behavioral targeting (also known as remarketing) since the idea of tracking web surfer’s activity first surfaced.  The Center for Digital Democracy, a leading privacy advocacy group, has been a vocal player in protecting consumer’s privacy online.  As far back as November 2007, the group has penned letters to the FCC asking for the federal agency to act on behavioral targeting in the interest of online privacy.  While it remains to be seen if the FCC will ever act to prohibit behavioral targeting, many companies who employ the strategy experience solid results; but how long will that last?

As recently as January 24th of this year, Google introduced a downloadable extension to their Chrome browser that allows its users to “opt out of personalized advertising”.  In Google’s own words, “Keep My Opt-Outs is an extension for users who aren’t comfortable with personalization of the ads they see on the web. It’s a one-step, persistent opt-out of personalized advertising and related data tracking performed by companies adopting the industry privacy standards for online advertising.”  Coincidentally (or not), Mozilla announced a similar option for their Firefox browser the day before Google’s announcement.  Mozilla’s new browser feature is best described by Alex Fowler, the Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader at Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox.  He states on his blog, “As the first of many steps, we are proposing a feature that allows users to set a browser preference that will broadcast their desire to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking by transmitting a Do Not Track HTTP header with every click or page view in Firefox. When the feature is enabled and users turn it on, web sites will be told by Firefox that a user would like to opt-out of OBA. We believe the header-based approach has the potential to be better for the web in the long run because it is a clearer and more universal opt-out mechanism than cookies or blacklists.”  Not to be outdone, Microsoft’s newest version of Internet Explorer “IE9”, which was released yesterday, provides users the ability to create a list of sites that they do not want tracking them.

Between the main three browsers (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 56%, Mozilla’s Firefox 23%, and Google Chrome 11%) 90% of all web surfers now have greater control over how they are tracked online.  If you are actively running behavioral targeting or remarketing campaigns, you should keep a close eye on your results to see if these new browser settings impact the return on your ad spend.

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