Why 'Do Not Track' measures don't always work
Twitter is one of the few big companies to honor "Do Not Track" preferences, most of the others do not.
Mon, Jul 02, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Careful what you wish for. Web surfers sick of being tracked by advertisers and hit with targeted ads may be just as frustrated by seeing the same irrelevant ad repeated as a result of not being tracked.
That conundrum came up June 28 when the Senate Commerce Committee heard from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a group advising the government on how to implement a mandatory "Do Not Track" (DNT) policy for websites by the end of the year.
While it seems obvious that "Do Not Track" means "don't store any data about the pages I visit," W3C representatives have a different view. In a three-day meeting prior to the hearing, the group discussed possible exceptions that would allow for some data collection even if a user opts to not be tracked.
For instance, the W3C supports "frequency capping." That means that even if you have activated DNT, advertisers could still track you enough to prevent you from seeing the same ad over and over.
Advertising industry representatives have warned that being inundated with the same ad could be one of the unexpected and annoying results for DNT users. [Reality Check: State of 'Do Not Track']
The industry insists its voluntary measures are working. In his testimony before the Senate committee, Bob Liodice, president and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, said that a trillion ads are served each month with the Interactive Advertising Bureau's alert icon that signals consumers that they're being tracked and links to a DNT option. And, 1 million people have implemented a DNT option such as the one offered by Mozilla in its Firefox browser.
But the DNT option adopted by those million Internet users has been largely ignored. Twitter is one of the few big companies that announced it responds to DNT signals. Facebook does not. Microsoft said it will, but does not yet have a program to recognize DNT signals.
The effects of DNT can't be measured until sites actually stop tracking visitors, but whether that really means no tracking at all, or just a little tracking, remains to be seen. The completed DNT package is expected by the end of this year.
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