Preventing the ‘Do Not Track’ Arms Race
Mon, June 10, 2013
OFFERFORGE.COM: A new digital arms race is looming. Users, advertisers, browser companies, and website owners are pitted against one another in a battle over online advertisements and the way individual consumer information is used to deliver targeted ads.
If not defused, escalation around these competing interests will create major problems for both individuals and the businesses that depend on the internet. The issue is coming to a head right now with a major Senate hearing today, new technology developments from browsers and advertisers, and a key meeting in the “Do Not Track” process the week after next.
What’s the big deal? We expect to see ads for baby clothes and diapers when we visit an online maternity store. But some object to the practice known as “behavioral retargeting,” where the same ads follow us and show up on unrelated sites afterwards. Especially since the volume of cookies and other web tracking techniques has climbed sharply in recent years: According to a study last year led by Chris Hoofnagle and Ashkan Soltani, cookies were detected on the top 100 websites. They also found an average of 57 cookies per website and 100 or more cookies on one-fifth of the top websites.
Users should have a choice. Sounds simple enough. But it’s not.
An overwhelming 87 percent of the overall cookies were set by third parties, rather than by the “first parties” users see when they first click or type a URL. Retargeting comes from such third-party advertising, because an advertising network typically places a cookie on our computers and then serves the baby clothes ads at one of the many other websites that participates in its network.