Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 7, 2012 9:51 PM

The Do Not Track Button

What kind of experience do you want?

Marketers have abused the anonymity of IP addresses for too long and now consumers (and journalists) are fighting back... and they're fighting mad. Everything you say and do online can and is being used against you in the online world. Think that Gmail is free? No, it is not. And, while Google is not "reading" your email, it is scanning the content and delivering relevant advertising to you based on that. Don't like it? Gmail is free... go and get yourself your own email server and hosting and you won't miss a beat (except you're going to have to pay for it). Want more features and functionality on Facebook? What are you willing to pay? Nothing? Do you think that Facebook is a public service or a business? In case you're not sure, take a peek at what the Facebook IPO looks like. What do you think all of these investors are buying into (hint: it's your data and information).

You are being followed.

As part of the TED conference last week, Mozilla's, Atul Varma, introduced a new platform called Collusion that helps individuals using the Firefox web browser to track the trackers. The initiative was created after Varma tracked who was following his young child online. After a couple of hours, it was hundreds of companies. What do all of these trackers want? Ultimately, these trackers are trying to put an advertisement in front of you that will make you take an action.

What does this look like? 

Here's a scenario: the other day I was looking some different styles of shoes on Zappos, but didn't buy anything. A few days later, I started noticing banner ads featuring the shoe I was looking at and some other styles. A couple of days later, another ad, but with a call to action for free shipping. In its mildest form, this is what tracking looks like. The marketers will call this behavioral targeting. The idea is simple: if you know someone is looking at something, why not show them a relevant ad instead of a random one? It's not only a smart marketing strategy, it's a better user experience as well. People often lament advertising, but what they really don't like is untargeted messaging (because it lacks relevance).

You win some... you lose some.

The trick is in finding the balance. How do you deliver relevant and contextual advertising (or even content) while not freaking out consumers that every click and type is being tracked and monitored so that their web experience can be personally optimized? Google (and other search engines) now serve up relevant search results ahead of the organic search results. In fact, many search engine optimization experts will tell you that there is no longer any true, organic natural search result: my search results are not your search results, and everyone gets their own, personalized, set of returns from a search query. In a world where all of this personalization lives and breathes, how will the two worlds of creepy tracking and ideal experience blend and come together?

What do you want?

Odds are that you want personalization, but you also want to maintain your privacy. Let's face it, we tell things to a search engine that we don't even tell our spouses or families. You're kidding yourself if you think this information (positive, negative or neutral) is not being tracked and stored. Then again, who wants unrelated advertising flashing and bleeping across our screens? In the world of tracking, I'd much prefer that the Web is capturing everything I'm doing to deliver more relevant content to me, I just want to be rest assured that this information can't be tracked back to me as an individual, right? If all you have is my habits but none of my personal information, please track away. But, if you're combining my usage with who I am, personally... then shame on you (unless you have my explicit and implicit permission). If the world needs a "do not track" button, we're already poised at the top of a very slippery (and stupid) slope.

It's all over.

This is a magnificent time to be a marketing professional. Between Web, mobile, touch, Social Media and how this all integrates into traditional marketing and communications, there could not be a more fascinating time to be in Marketing. But, if we botch this, lose the trust of consumers and do stupid things like track people down to their personal information, we're not only going to screw this all up, but it's going to be a deep, dark and evil place that we - as a marketing industry - may not be able to be recovered from. If consumers need protection from the marketers with the help of government, you know we've already stepped over the line... again.

Are we going to mess this up? What's your take?

By Mitch Joel