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Google Allows ‘Do-Not-Track’ Button in Browser to Protect Consumer Data

Do-Not-Track: Google joins the Digital Advertising Alliance

On Thursday, February 23, 2012, a coalition of Internet giants including Google which represents over 90 percent of all online advertising agreed to support a Do-Not-Track (DNT) button to be embedded in most web browsers.

Google previously resisted incorporating DNT into its web browser (Chrome) and advertising systems, because (as they put it) there didn’t seem to be a wide consensus on what “tracking” really means. They didn’t feel it was responsible to allow users to send a header in Chrome that largely had no effect and no agreed-upon meaning.  Going forward, the scope is now clear, and we know that the header will be respected by the industry.  The Direct Advertising Alliance Principles, and therefore the header, cover some aspects of tailored advertising.  But, for example, if users have requested personalization (such as by signing up for particular services) or visit websites that use “first party” cookies to personalize the overall experience (for example a news website recommending articles to its readers, or a video site remembering your volume preferences), then browsers will not break that experience.

What Do-Not-Track Is Intended To Do:

The DNT technology simply modifies communication between browsers and servers so people can signal that they don’t want their browsing behavior to become the basis for ad targeting.

Early on, Mozilla developed DNT and built it into its Firefox browser.  Microsoft followed suit not long after with Internet Explorer and Apple included it in the latest version of its operating system, Mountain Lion, which was released to developers this year.  Since Mozilla jumped into the DNT in a big way (earlier in 2011) it’s noted that fewer than 5% of their users have turned on DNT within Firefox.
How Do-Not-Track Works

At its most basic, DNT is a preference expressed by users. DNT lets you hear directly from your users that they have privacy concerns and they would like your site to respond to those concerns.

At a technical level, DNT is an HTTP header.  When DNT is enabled, Firefox sends the string “DNT: 1” for each browser transaction (for example, to load a Web page, an image, a widget, or other subpart of a page).

What Do-Not-Track Won’t Do

DNT will not stop all web tracking.  Companies have simply agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.  It would also not block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.  As it relates to insurance, the gist was that one’s browsing behavior cannot be shared with various entities that might use that information to make personal business decisions about that individual.  Example: if a users browses/searches often for ‘Donuts’ and “bad-for-your health recipes”, that info can’t be shared with a life insurer who would base rates partly on that info — that they’re potentially unhealthy.  It’s not happening now, so we think it’s more posturing than anything else.

Concurrently, DNT won’t have an immediate impact on automatically eliminating browsing history, temporary Internet files, form data, cookies, and user names and passwords from being retained by the browser.  If the consumer wishes not to leave any trace of their web browsing activity on a specific computer, they will have to turn on Google’s Incognito, Internet Explorers InPrivate Browsing or Firefox’s Private Browsing feature.

The Do-Not-Track Field Guide

Mozilla published (see attached) a detailed overview of DNT of which includes an introduction to DNT, various case studies from several industries on how DNT can be applied and several tutorials for developers.  This provides organizations the necessary information to determine how to best apply DNT to their environments.

How This Impacts Your Interactive Marketing Organization

Though there is still much to be determined, in the short term this will have no impact in your business.  IF (and the only data available is from the Mozilla chart above) adoption increases, our behavioral targeting / remarketing campaigns would be less influential because they would not be served to the user base that’s opted out.  It should be noted that behavioral targeting / remarketing is typically a very small (less than 1%) of our total monthly lead volume delivered and only a small percentage of this would be impacted (.01%).  Paid Search & Networks, Display Advertising and SEO will not be impacted.  There will also be no impact to any offline (Google TV, etc.) marketing programs.

The DNT impacts only third party cookies, Google Analytics and AdWords Conversion Tracking are considered first party cookies.  It should also be noted that important functions like registering conversions and site analytics are essential to the operation of advertising and websites, and the DAA principles rightly permit such uses. Therefore, these first-party cookies are unaffected.

Summation

The White House has been calling on Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights” that give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.  The 400+ companies in the Digital Advertising Alliance have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes.  But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.  This agreement will not solve all the privacy issues users face on the web today.  However, it represents a meaningful step forward in privacy controls for users.

Update on Google’s New Privacy Policy

Google will be implementing a new privacy policy on March 1st.  Until now, your Google web history (searches and sites visited) was taken off from Google’s other products.  This protection was especially important because search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more.

In their words, “our new privacy policy makes it clear that if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you like a single user across all products, which will mean a simple, more intuitive Google experience.”

What this means is that they are merging their entire platform.  The result will be combined data collection across Gmail, You Tube and Google+ allowing Google for more targeted advertising. This also means that, once you’re logged-in to Google, they have the right to track your online activity within their network. And you can’t opt-out.

Steve Jacoby,
Managing Director, Search and Media Strategy

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