DAA Responds to Microsoft Column on ‘Do Not Track’ Plans

Claims 'on' position creates confusion in the ad community and with consumers

In a contributed column in September 10 issue of Adweek, Rik van der Kooi, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Advertising Business Group, explained why Microsoft decided to turn on a “Do Not Track” (DNT) feature in its latest version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser, Version 10, which arrives this fall.

Microsoft in the opinion of the Digital Advertising Alliance, is making a huge mistake – and setting a dangerous precedent – that seems to say information has no role to play in our information economy.

Let’s make this perfectly clear: DNT accelerates and fans the flames of fear and confusion in the advertising community and with consumers. It may be a good sound bite, but it is a poor policy for the long-term health of the ad-supported Internet.

Van der Kooi mentions that in the past, consumers had been in the dark about how online advertisers use data. The trouble is that Microsoft’s DNT decision (or, for that matter, any browser’s similar implementation) doesn’t correct the situation. It exacerbates it.

Why not educate consumers about interest-based ads, and give them their own choice to opt-out, or opt-down?

Microsoft claims that its DNT decision is designed to further educate consumers about the value exchange that comes with online advertising. We shouldn’t debate turning DNT on or off, van der Kooi says, but instead “redouble our efforts as an industry and educate consumers about how advertising pays for the free Web experience we all now enjoy[.]” But how can that be? Advertisers want smart ads, and the Internet helps deliver that; a default DNT would seem to shut that possibility down at the start. Furthermore, the education effort should be aimed at calming fears about privacy while delivering value to brands and consumers, not fanning the flames of the debate.

The sites consumers rely on—those that deliver weather, news, and social experiences—all rely on data to fuel their ad revenue. A Do-Not-Track signal, established in the express settings of a browser, effectively eliminates available data. In turn, this puts at risk a significant amount of ad revenue available to such free or ad-supported sites.

DNT, the way Microsoft is pursuing it, also fails to advance van der Kooi’s stated goal of bringing brands and consumers closer together. Rather, this is a piece of technology acting as a wedge between brands and consumers, and no one benefits when resulting ads are wasted and off the mark. We believe, as we hope Microsoft and other tech companies believe, that technology should empower brand and consumer engagement in an increasingly customer-centric world, not disrupt it.

The age of “digital enlightenment” that van der Kooi refers to is already upon us, thanks in large part to the DAA’s AdChoices icon initiative. Transparency is the new norm, and if consumers are curious about why they see an ad, the icon allows them to pursue their inquisitiveness.  If not, this consumer option remains open to revisit at any time, and in real-time. It appears 1 trillion times a month in the ads of brands that have signed up to responsible and enforceable data use practices.

Another issue with Microsoft’s DNT strategy, beyond the risks to ad revenue, is that it fails to provide an effective privacy mechanism, because of the lack of enforceability, a hallmark of any privacy initiative. The DAA effort is enforceable, and the Council of Better Business Bureaus has already brought a dozen actions. It’s easy enough to throw out technology solutions, but without the necessary groundwork to enforce consumer decisions, they do little good in the long run.

Van der Kooi’s byline seems to advocate more education and more transparency. Unfortunately, the implementation of a Do-Not-Track setting by default on any browser does the opposite. The exchange implicit in the “rich web experience” that consumers enjoy requires the precise data exchange that DNT would purport to prevent. 

The only thing DNT by default would deliver is fear and confusion among consumers, darkening the ecosystem that the entire industry has been illuminating through an industry self-regulatory program for two years. —Lou Mastria, managing director, Digital Advertising Alliance

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