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Brett Greene

Brett Greene

Posted: December 3, 2010 05:09 PM

Yesterday the Federal Trade Commission took the first steps towards creating a Do Not Track feature to allow internet users to opt-out of having companies obtain data on their online surfing habits. This mechanism is being designed in the spirit of the Do Not Call registry that regulates the activities of telemarketers.

On the surface this sounds great. You would be hard pressed to find anyone, besides a telemarketer, who preferred life before the Do Not Call list eliminated those annoying sales calls that interrupted your dinner. But online advertising and telemarketing are very different animals, so let's look a little deeper into what the reality of a Do Not Track bill would look like.

In theory implementing a Do Not track mechanism will allow consumers to have more control over their personal information that is shared online. Internet privacy has been a hot topic for awhile now, so it's easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to supporting anything that will protect online privacy. The more prudent way to analyze the implications of a Do Not Track bill is to look at what it will actually accomplish.

Eliminating or decreasing the frequency of internet users receiving targeted advertising while they surf websites is the result that the Do Not Track bill. Building individual profiles of how we search, surf and interact online for the use of targeted advertising, based on behavioral targeting and contextual advertising, is assumed to be a problem that needs solving. ... but is it?

Common wisdom tells us that people hate advertising. Is this true, or is this is a myth when it is thrown out as a blanket statement?

People don't hate advertising; they hate advertising for stuff they don't want.

People love advertising that tells them about a new cool product they will use. We are psychologically wired to connect with other people and seek their validation. Therefore we love to be the first one to tell our friends about something that we think is cool, and that we think they will think is cool.

With this in mind, why wouldn't you want to see targeted advertising when you're online? You're going to see advertising anyway, so what's bad about it being for products and services that are aligned with your historical online profile of interests?

Why should anyone be afraid of marketers using this data to offer you more things that you want? This isn't the same as someone using your private information for identity theft. This is a way for you to find out about things you'll probably be interested in rather than finding out about things you don't care about.

The word 'privacy' is a trigger word. No one wants to give up their privacy. If the Do Not Track bill goes into effect you can choose to keep a little bit of your privacy in exchange for continuing to receive nonspecific advertising instead of targeted advertising online.

Either way, this issue not anywhere near the problem it's made out to be and your life as an American consumer will continue on. You just may have to wait longer to discover cool new products and be stuck with seeing diaper advertisements when you don't have any toddlers in the house or ads for singles websites even though you've been married for 10 years. At least you'll be able to feel a little more secure because you feel in control of your information.

 

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