The Do Not Track Button

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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?


  1. DUDE! Mitch! Geez I need to come here more often again.
    People are ok being tracked by the owners of the websites they use on those websites. But being tracked off those websites they go ballistic. a 2009 study 83% of the people were against Behavioral Tracking. Over 50% thought the management for companies that do this should go to jail!
    Advertising never ever listens to public opinion. I have an ex client from a B2B job I had who said he looks at me differently now that I am in advertising because of all this stuff. I said ‘do you read my blog?’ lol
    I quit Facebook over the DATR cookie. I now use Facebook in Chrome with my work email and that is it. everything else i use firefox for so they can’t see me.
    I also use no scripts add on so i disable most ad networks but can’t see the hidden ones. Ghostery is one you can see and block them but it makes the browser clunky.
    love the post Mitch!

  2. Mitch,
    Great post as always Mitch. Slippery slope indeed as tracking and analytics are the ultimate, albeit confounding, attraction of online marketing. I think most consumers have simply come to expect they are being tracked at some level and choose to turn a blind eye to just how invasive that level may be. Yes, the “do not track” button will be there, but it will be interesting to see just how many choose and/or are savvy enough to push it.

  3. Another great post! Am guessing this has to do with the new Google tactic that pulls all your information from various profiles and uses this to serve up personalized search results and ads? That is a little too much. I don’t mind Google tracking my search habits, heck, I’m using their service for free. But I don’t want that information to be tied to my name and given to advertisers – thats just creepy. When things like this happen, I’m glad there are privacy advocates out there that keep an eye on this.
    But as long as my name isn’t tied to my browsing behavior, then go right on ahead and use it. Actually, I want more businesses to take advantage of this, so I can use their products/services for free. Things like Hulu, Gmail, Facebook etc all are free in exchange for a few annoying ads. I would love to see Showtime or even productions like Disney serve up their content for free, with the power of ads.
    This is in the early stages, but I read that some are making a business out of selling parts of your information. Basically giving the user the power to share information about themselves in exchange for free services, discounts or even $$. That should be interesting!

  4. Good points,
    What’s fascinating is how folks react to retargeting ads vs. facebook.
    Retargeting does not include personally identifiable information and is used to deliver relevant content. Some folks go nuts when they find out.
    Facebook has historically had a bad rep with information that is very easy to link to identity yet the numbers still go up. (Sure, there is resistance but it certainly hasn’t been too much of an obstacle)
    All social media seems to be much easier to track and use for marketing purposes yet there’s not the same weariness.
    It’ll be interesting what’s the tipping point for privacy concerns in the U.S.
    The Do Not Track button will be an option for browsers for next 9 months. but there’s no mandatory opt-in select.

  5. I likeSheena’s observation “But as long as my name isn’t tied to my browsing behavior, then go right on ahead and use it. Actually, I want more businesses to take advantage of this, so I can use their products/services for free.”
    I work in B2B and we use Reverse IP mapping to track incoming site visitors for sales funnel tracking. Unlike B2C you can’t see the individual person – just the IP address which is linked back to the corporation.
    Somehow, this hasn’t raised up the storm. It could – if we abuse the privilege. But I sincerely hope that B2B does not get its collective knickers in a twist about this because it’s one of the greatest parts of the fun to be had in the online marketing world.
    Rebecca Caroe
    A blog about business development for agencies

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