What Does Do Not Track Mean to Advertisers?

Anne Garcia - January 12, 2011

The FTC has been trying to implement “Do Not Track” rules that would enable Internet users to opt out of being followed around the Web. These new rules are being praised by privacy advocates who are weary that websites have too much valuable information that could possibly be misused or even sold to insurance companies, banks, employers, etc. to make important application or approval decisions. Do Not Track opponents are hoping the FTC will maintain the current self-regulatory method.  On January 31, the FTC will vote on whether to request a congressional mandate for websites to honor the Do Not Track requests from users.

So what does Do Not Track mean to advertisers? If the FTC passes Do Not Track, online advertisers will have to change current practices of using behavioral targeting and pixel tracking. It will also allow Internet users to choose an option on their Web browser to notify every webpage they visit not to track them.

As it stands, advertisers can track users through a tracking pixel or cookie, that gets downloaded to each visitor’s browser. Then the advertiser can target visitors on other web sites with display banners or videos. Behavioral targeting allows advertisers to create groups of users that are more inclined to be interested in an advertiser’s product or service. For example, an advertiser can target females 18-34 for beauty products instead of blindly showing ads to all visitors on a Web page.

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Do Not Track rules would severely hurt the $300 billion online advertising industry. Display ads rely heavily on Internet tracking and behavioral targeting and marketers have seen great lifts in click-through and conversion rates due to these newly implemented tools.

The online advertising industry does not “watch over” individual’s Web browsing. Advertisers use Web browsing data to make educated decisions as to where and when advertisements should be seen, which plausibly speaking benefits web users as well.

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