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BLOG: Ad industry to Web: Trust us, we're lying

Robert X. Cringely | Oct. 12, 2012
You say you don't want dozens of obscure companies recording every website you visit. What are you -- a commie?

But when the ad industry talks about implementing Do Not Track, they still want to record your movements from website to website; they just won't use that data to show you relevant ads.

In other words: They still plan to track you, but you won't get any benefit from it. That is how they define "do not track." Really.

It gets worse. Last June, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer 10 would come with Do Not Track set by default. That means when a page loads into IE10, the browser sends a flag to every server it hits, saying, "Hey, this person doesn't want advertisers following him around the Internet like bloodhounds on the trail of a possum." It would then be up to the folks operating each server to decide whether to honor that DNT flag.

Immediately, the ad industry said it would refuse to honor that flag. Why? In the words of the Digital Advertising Alliance:

Machine-driven Do Not Track does not represent user choice; it represents browser-manufacturer choice. Allowing browser manufacturers to determine the kinds of information users receive could negatively impact the vast consumer benefits and Internet experiences delivered by DAA participants and millions of other websites that consumers value.

By consumer choice, what the ad industry means is allowing you to click that tiny blue AdChoices triangle you find on some Web ads to find out "how data powers your experience" and -- if you're willing to click your way through a few more screens -- opt out of receiving targeted ads from those particular companies.

Again, all that clicking will do is stop them from sending you relevant ads; it won't stop them from collecting data about your browsing habits.

In other words: If your browser is set to block tracking by default, that's not a true expression of how you really feel. If your browser is set to allow tracking by default, however, that is a true expression of how you feel. Got that?

When someone who's not in the online advertising industry points this stuff out, we invariably get dire warnings from people inside the industry saying if people opt out of tracking, the "free Internet" will shrivel up and die.

Yes, if DNT manages to actually prevent tracking, the online ad industry will take the $32 billion it spent last year and go home. Never mind that only a fraction of those dollars were spent on targeted ads.


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