Even the non techs have been hearing about Do Not Track lately. The basic idea is that letting advertisers track you is annoying, frustrating, and something a lot of us just don’t want, but moreover, we don’t want random websites doing the same thing! Imagine if you went into Starbucks, and they followed you around to everywhere else you went that day? Starbucks.com could do that, and I personally find it invasive. 1
This is, in part, what that stupid EU law was trying to tackle.
There are a lot of ways to block that sort of tracking, but the latest way is to use Do Not Track (DNT). Turning on DNT on your browser puts an extra header in your web page requests that says “Don’t track my behavior!” Now, the only real downside is that both your browser and the site you’re on have to agree to these rules for it to work, but with Microsoft in the mix, turning DNT on by default for Windows 8, I think we’re on the right track.
If you go to IE’s testdrive of DNT you can see the status of your current browser, and all others.
Interstingly Chrome doesn’t have this yet, and when it does, it will default to track. Safari does that too. It’s weird for me to be saying ‘Microsoft has it right’ but I suspect it comes down to how advertising works. Microsoft really doesn’t need to advertise except to improve their image. Everyone knows Microsoft, and they know Office, IE, and Windows. Apple’s still a small percentage, and Google was a techy thing for so long, I think that’s why their first social network failed. Because Microsoft has such a percentage of non-tech users (i.e. everyone) and because of their bad rep, the best thing they can do to improve everything is start protecting the users more.
Of course, we all know that being tracked is a function of being online, or even in a store. Physical stores have often watched where people linger to figure out how to better arrange stores, and they ask for your zipcode when you show to understand who buys what. This is all a part of marketing. Of course the problem with online is that the more I search for something, the more I see it in my ads (Google). Why is this a problem? Let’s say I research a MiFi device, find the one I want, and buy it. For the next four months, I got ads for MiFis.
I should explain, while I have no problem with people tracking me for analytics (I rely on them myself, can’t understand your visitors without data), its what they’re doing with that data that pisses me off. Getting my info to make a better product for me is great. Getting my info to sell to people is not. And that’s why I’m for do-not-track. Or at least ‘Ask to track.’ It goes back to the store. If I go to Office Depot, they ask me for my zipcode or phone, and I can decline. They use that to track me, and if I don’t want them to know that I drove 80 miles to get something, I don’t have to tell them. Online, I should have that same option.
Sadly, the steam behind Do Not Track is running out. Ten months after everyone agreed this needed to happen, nothing’s happened and that’s problematic. Why did we all go dark over SOPA? Because, at some level, we all believed that the Internet is changing things for the better. And yet, we all promised to have Do Not Track up by the end of 2012, and that sure didn’t happen. Then again, we’re merrily Thelma and Lousie’ing right off a fiscal cliff too, so this really isn’t a surprise.
I’m actually against ad-blocking software, and yet we’re at the point where I’ve installed it on Chrome, and I’m starting to block people. Oh, I run the other way with this. I only block certain sites (generally I’ve taken to blocking ones that have annoying ‘overlay’ ads) because, again, I get that people need these metrics to make things work, and I too make money off ads.
In fact, this is yet another reason I use Project Wonderful for my ads. They have a very simple policy:
Specific tracking of user interactions that don’t involve clicks is not allowed, including view-through tracking, key-modifier tracking, and mouse-location tracking.
So please, allow ads on my sites. I promise I don’t track you with ads. I do have Google and Jetpack tracking your visits, but that’s just for me to measure how things work on the site, and I will never sell or otherwise use your personal information for my own gain.