Do Not Track technology and privacy controls are aimed at keeping internet users’ online browsing activities private and untraced. Opponents of the Do Not Track technology feel that it is an invasion of privacy and feel that allowing their computer browsers to store and maintain data about your computer and online activity will somehow cause them harm. This is not the case, nor is it even a possible unintended outcome from abuse of the technology. Why? Because that is not what the technology does.
The browser data collected, however is unidentifiable and untraceable to an individual. No one is going to be able to use that information to find where you live or take action against you for purchases made. Those are all paranoid misconceptions about the technology, which simply is not that specific or advanced. The main reason for the technology is so that advertisers can use that information to profile the computer user (not “Mary”, “John”, or “Sally”) so that sites with advertising can show relevant ads that might be of more interest to you based on passed search activity, regional location, and other data collected and shared. The data is for profiling purposes, not identifying purposes. Showing relevant ads increases the chances of purchase based on interest, thereby lowering the cost of overall ad spend for the companies doing the advertising. If a computer user is not tracked, which is done through a cookie system in the user’s browser, they will still see ads, but they will be more generic ads with less chance of it relating to the user in any way. Therefore, the user is less likely in visiting the site, or purchasing the goods or services offered thereby increasing the amount of advertising dollars needed to be spent in order to make a sale. This increase in advertising costs, which will be universal across all internet companies online, will result in the need for internet businesses to increase the markup. Yes, that’s it, it literally is the bottom line, since that is how the advertising businesses are affected. The result for unnecessarily blocked the assumed invasion of privacy is an increase in the cost of goods. If companies lower or even stop some of their online advertising because of the decrease in ROI, some sites that function dependent on that advertising may suffer and produce less content or even shut down. The second consequence is then less informational sites on the internet.
Here is an example of how the technology works using two examples of internet users. The first is a male in Chicago whose main activity online over the past 30 days includes web searches for the Bears Football Team, the Blackhawks Hockey Team, Chevy Blazer car parts, and birthday gifts for a 7 year old girl. We do not know his name, we do not know where he lives – although his IP address indicates that it is the greater Chicago area (along with millions of other people). We do know what browser he is using and at what speed he is connected to the internet. The other important thing we know is some of his main interests as of late, according to his search browsing history. This gives websites that have advertising algorithms the information they need to serve relevant ads that he is more likely to click on. He browses on a hypothetical sports news site often. We’ve made up the name “123SPORTS” as the name of the site, and it shows ads from advertisers. When he visits “123SPORTS”, he can see ads from NFL.com showing the products they sell. If he has tracking enabled, he will see Bears and Blackhawks uniforms and gear, which of course means he would be much more likely to click that banner and visit the site to make a purchase. If he has DO Not Track enabled, he will see uniforms and gear from whatever team is most popular at the time. Unfortunately for him, it’s not The Bears right now, so he has no desire to click on the ad and ignores it. With tracking disabled, “123SPORTS’s” advertising may not even show him the NFL ad; it might show him an ad for a different company that sells grills. Since he is not in the market for a grill, this is wasted ad space since the technology available does not know anything about him. Having the Do Not Track technology disabled will allow users to have a more interesting online experience. The second user is a female in New York City whose main internet search activity over the past 30 days includes searches for corporate gifts, business suits, and Chicago Bears football. Just like our male Chicagoan above, we do not know her name, age, email address, or any identifiable data to link us directly to her. Not to mention, that in order to actually closely identify a person, it would have to be people looking at this information, however this is a computer program calculating an algorithm and showing ads in and if, then scenario. When our female search example visits “123SPORTS” she will see a very different set of ads based on her past search history. The technology can actually choose to show her banners from an advertiser they might have that sells suits or promotional items instead of showing her ads from the NFL. Overtime, if Do Not Track technology takes hold and continues to be the default setting enabled in web browsers, the prices of these types of goods will go up, and the number of informational sites, like say sports news sites that get their funding from advertising, will go down.
One of the main points of controversy with the whole Do Not Track battle is whether or not browsers should have tracking disabled as a default setting; thereby requiring users to manually enable the tracking feature if they want to be served more relevant ads and information. Having the setting as a default intended for privacy is a noble intention, however when privacy is not really being invaded, it just means educating the general internet using public as a whole not only how to go in and adjust default browser settings, but also the benefits of using the tracking technology in the first place. In today’s online plugged in world, internet privacy is a big buzz word, so many assumptions are immediately made when people incorrectly assume that the Do Not Track technology is helping them in any way.
The Do Not Track technology is not simply about information for making purchases online. It also enhances the browsing experience for users and makes accessing information online easier. Part of the tracking technology uses your computer connection IP address to determine location. As we’ve explained before, this is not your exact location, but more of the general area, city, county state, perhaps your zip code, but that’s about as far as that drills down. When a user searches for the weather online, it is much more convenient when the Weather Channel website shows you the weather in your area, rather than having to enter that in. Movie websites can quickly show you the times of the next feature showings in theaters near you, and a search for a local business in the search engines provide you with the closest locations at your first click. It is a big part of the information age we are in to have the answers you are looking for right at your fingertips as quickly as possible. It’s a convenience of modern technology, and should not be looked at as an invasion of privacy or burden on your rights.