Why would anyone want to curb advertisers’ ability to collect and store relevant data about you gleaned from your online and mobile activities? Marketing is as American as baseball or apple pie, a helpful medium that consistently delivers relevant advertising to potential consumers about products they might find useful. Further, it fuels the world, operating as one of the most important social values in our civil society, indirectly furthering democracy, free speech, and, of course, job creation…at least that’s what advertisers want you to think.
This bizarro world explanation of advertising is but one of the Orwellian ‘newspeak’ defences against the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) proposed ‘Do Not Track’ (DNT) policy, one that once ratified “would require advertisers and other third parties to turn off tracking for Internet users whose browser settings specifically restrict it.”
As one might expect, DNT has created a vast chasm between advertisers and privacy advocates, with advertisers going as far as to imply that restricting the ability of faceless corporations collecting your data without your permission is both un-American and un-democratic. Only communists like privacy I guess…
The language in the DNT debate has truly reach a disturbing Orwellian level, with so much hyperbole, redefinition, and bravado that its tough to parse through it all to the real crux of the matter, that of course being an Internet users’ right to control the collection of their personal information.
In fact, it seems that not even the members of the W3C can agree on what the DNT standard should be, with one member recently pushing for an amendment to the proposal that would add ‘marketing’ to the list of “Permitted Uses for Third Parties and Service Providers.” As one might expect, this proposal revision delights the advertising community, given that such a change renders the entire DNT experiment quite meaningless.
The W3C consortium itself is comprised of members from the advertising, marketing, and technology sectors, so it should come as no surprise that such dissension exists. But to alter the proposed definition of the DNT simply because advertising lobbyists are pulling the strings of the W3C board members is not a sign that advertising furthers democracy or freedom of speech, only that, like almost every thing else in our ‘free’ society, its a slave to big business.
Truth be told, it’s hard to take any of this seriously, particularly given the advertisers’ vehement Orwellian defense I summarized in the introduction to this piece. In fact, the only thing I think of when advertisers argue that marketing is one of the cornerstones of our democratic society is the Founding Fathers announcing the formation of the American Constitution, but first stating that this new country is brought to you by Ben Franklin’s Electric company or some such nonsense.
In the end, given the infighting among the W3C members, its hard to see any serious resolution in sight, as the consortium doesn’t seem any closer to formulating a DNT policy than it was a year ago. One surprise in this debate, however, is Microsoft, who announced recently that its new Internet Explorer 10 update will uphold Do Not Track options by default, although as expected, online advertisers have long found ways to circumvent such privacy settings….and the debate wages on.