Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a report that outlines their plan to deal with privacy issues on the internet. They take those issues seriously and FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz made it clear that they “will take action against companies that cross the line with consumer data and violate consumer’s privacy – especially when children and teens are involved.”
The report states that industry efforts have been “too slow, and up to now have failed to provide adequate and meaningful protection.” The FTC says that current privacy policies, which are long and full of legalize, are confusing to consumers if they can find the policy and they take the time to read it. The report wants to shift the responsibility away from the consumer and on to the advertisers. They call it “privacy by design,” suggesting that companies build “privacy protections into their everyday business practices.”
“Technological and business ingenuity have spawned a whole new online culture and vocabulary – email, IMs, apps and blogs – that consumers have come to expect and enjoy. The FTC wants to help ensure that the growing, changing, thriving information marketplace is built on a framework that promotes privacy, transparency, business innovation and consumer choice.”
The biggest issue in the report is the idea of forcing a “Do Not Track” setting that would leave it up to the consumer to decide how much data they give away on a case by case bases. They recommend a cookie-like setting on each person’s browser that denotes whether they are okay with tracking and targeted ads or not.
The FTC does understand that there are occasions where consent isn’t necessary. Says the report:
“It is reasonable for companies to engage in certain practices – namely, product and service fulfillment, internal operations such as improving services offered, fraud prevention, legal compliance, and first-party marketing. By clarifying those practices for which consumer consent is unnecessary, companies will be able to streamline their communications with consumers, reducing the burden and confusion on consumers and businesses alike.”
On the heels of that, Microsoft announced that they’re taking steps to assure user privacy with a new Do Not Track option in Internet Explorer 9 few days ago. They have come up with a middle-ground solution that, if it appeases the FTC, could be the way of the future.
Internet Explorer 9, which is due to be released early next year, will come equipped with “Tracking Protection.” Using this feature, consumers will be able to click on an ad and disallow the 3rd party offering the ad from tracking them in the future, these 3rd parties are added to a “Tracking Protection List” that will be saved in the browser settings.
A Tracking Protection List (TPL) contains web addresses (like msdn.com) that the browser will visit (or “call”) only if the consumer visits them directly by clicking on a link or typing their address. By limiting the calls to these websites and resources from other web pages, the TPL limits the information these other sites can collect.
Microsoft has a short demo video on their blog announcement, you can watch to see how it might works. The video shows you a single web page with two different sets of tracking elements. They choose one element and on refresh, those ads are automatically blocked leaving a white space where they would have appeared. They go in again and choose element B and the original ads return and these ads disappear.
The main difference between IE 9’s Tracking Protection and the FTC’s proposed Do Not Track option is that the user must turn on the option and actively work to filter out unwanted ads. If the FTC has it their way, it will be the other way around. Filtering will be the default and users will need to flip a switch if they wish to be tracked.
The web browser is only one part of the online privacy experience, for many consumers, the browser is a key technology to manage their privacy choices. From a marketing standpoint, Microsoft’s solution is the best one – the feature let consumers have a clear, straight forward, opt-in mechanism to enable a higher degree of control over sharing their browsing information AND websites can provide easy to use lists to manage their privacy as well as experience full-featured sites. In the other words, consumers who worry about tracking can opt out, but for those who don’t understand it, or don’t care won’t be affected. It truly is the “Don’t Call List” of the Internet.