Advertisers Whine: “Do Not Track” Makes Our Job Really Super Hard

So the Association of National Advertisers got it’s panties all twisted in a knot because Microsoft was planning to build a “Do Not Track” feature into the next version of Internet Explorer – as a default setting. Theoretically this should allow users who use Explorer 10 to instruct marketers not to track the sites you visit, the things you search for, and links you click.

A letter was written to Steve Ballmer and other senior executives at Microsoft demanding that the feature be cut because, and get this, it “will undercut the effectiveness of our members’ advertising and, as a result, drastically damage the online experience by reducing the Internet content and offerings that such advertising supports. This result will harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy.”

This is about a feature which allows you to choose not to have your internet behavior tracked by marketers.

I’ll wait till you’re done laughing. Oh God my cheeks are sore.

And if the story ended here, I’d just gleefully use Explorer 10 and tell all the sputtering, stammering marketers who would dumbly fire advertisements for socks at me since I indeed bought some socks over 2 months ago indicating that I must be a “sock-buyer”, to suck it up.

But the story does not end there.

The problem is that “Do Not Track” is voluntary. Advertisers are technically able to ignore the setting and do everything you think you are disallowing. The industry has only agreed to adhere to the Do Not Track setting if it is not on by default – only if it has been explicitly turned on by a human being which would indicate that this person really truly does not want to be tracked. A default setting does not “prove” this intention.

So when wind of Microsoft’s plans became known Roy Fielding, an author of “Do Not Track” wrote a patch allowing Apache servers to completely ignore Microsoft’s setting by default. In support of this Fielding states:

“The decision to set DNT by default in IE10 has nothing to do with the user’s privacy. Microsoft knows full well that the false signal will be ignored, and thus prevent their own users from having an effective option for DNT even if their users want one.”

So Microsoft – who may very well have been grandstanding with its default DNT to earn points with consumers – backed down and set it to off, by default. Now if you turn it on – theoretically it should work for those users. But of course now the same stale rule applies only in reverse, the DNT setting will be “off” for most users – not because the user chose that setting, but because the user likely didn’t know any better – and presto – sock ads.

So the marketers breathe a sigh of relief. Crisis averted. Advertising’s parasitic, interruptive, low-bar-creative business model can prevail.

At least it will work until the day comes that users all start using DNT. At which point we’ll be right back here again with advertisers screeching that the whole thing is broken because it threatens the American way.

And if you’ve read any other posts on this blog you know I believe oppressive threat to the advertising business model is exactly what needs to happen.

At the end of the day – advertisers need to stop interrupting your attention and vying for surreptitious control over your privacy and your life.

The ad industry instead needs to learn how to create messages consumers actually want. Desirable, welcome things that don’t naturally result in the vast majority of the population idly wishing there was a button to disallow it, as is the case today.

If you are an advertiser you probably read this and have no idea what such a thing might be. And that’s the problem with your world view.