‘Do Not Track’ Privacy and its Impact on Advertising

Microsoft will soon release the Windows 8 platform and with it Internet Explorer 10; as part of this, Do Not Track (DNT) technology would be turned on by default. Internet Explorer currently accounts for a little over half of all Internet usage, ahead of Chrome and Firefox. Privacy advocates have expressed concern as this move to include DNT on by default will not be compliant with the W3C Tracking Protection Working Group’s stance on DNT – which suggests that the technology should be voluntary only, as an expression of a user’s preference for privacy.

Microsoft also recently received Congressional support for keeping DNT on by default in IE10 and Congress expects DNT to eventually be supported by all other web browsers. Some Internet users will look at this as a step forward in consumer online privacy as it prevents websites from tracking and collecting personal information for marketing purposes. For technology and advertising companies (specifically ad networks), this is a step backward as it limits online behavioral targeting. While the number of users who will install IE10 probably won’t be large enough to immediately disrupt anything, the larger concern is that other browsers may soon follow Microsoft’s lead into default DNT.

This change will impact any advertisers that leverage behaviorally-targeted ad campaigns. If other browsers adopt default DNT, then behavioral targeting could become a non-scalable media tactic. DNT will also affect ad campaigns in general. Once it is enabled on a browser, that browser’s cookies will be deleted. This will directly impact how campaign and site analytics are reported, as unique reach and unique visitor counts will be skewed each time a user with DNT enabled visits the site. The site analytics report will reflect a higher reach and visitor count than what actually occurred.

DNT will also challenge the functionality and creativity of ads. Ad types such as dynamic ads are reliant on user data to automatically populate and create a more personalized message. With DNT on by default, these ad types will no longer function. Additionally, ad campaigns that leverage frequency capping to serve a progressive series of ads will become ineffective since they are reliant on cookies.

Our observation is that it will take some time before DNT is adopted across all browsers and the impact of IE10 won’t be immediate. As that shift is almost inevitable, agencies will need to work with media partners to create alternative solutions that deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time while remaining compliant. If the data is used correctly it can have significant potential to build a more personalized web experience by changing the way we consume and search for information. Within the appropriate therapeutic categories, understanding and leveraging non-personally identifiable information through behavioral targeting can help active seekers find the information they are searching for online. This audience is likely to be more receptive to those marketing messages because they are more qualified and getting the message at the right time.

As conversations around online privacy continue to grow within the healthcare industry and in general, our company also believes that more clients should begin to adopt use of TRUSTed Ads, which provide users with a privacy notice and choice within ads. By embedding the TRUSTed Ads ‘AdChoices’ icon on or near existing banner ads, a consumer or healthcare professional can easily click through to TRUSTe’s privacy notice and opt-out.

We recommend our clients work with us to fully understand the impact of DNT as it relates to his or her company’s own internal policies on digital advertising, online privacy and behavioral targeting.