How will marketers react to the Do Not Track feature of leading browsers?

With the development of Internet technology, a large number of people, business entities and organizations are interacting with each other. For instance, Facebook enables its users to socialize with each other. Google provides e-mail services and entertainment such as Gmail and YouTube. Customers pay fees for the services or are exposed to advertisements. While this interaction is processed, users leave a trace of their personal information such as IP address or search history.

Personal information has become a valuable asset because many business entrepreneurs are utilizing it to implement targeting advertisements or marketing promotions.

Microsoft appears to have upset a lot of vendors on the Internet. Where many browsers now allow users to configure their browser to disallow cookies being saved to hard drives and information being collected for use, Microsoft has opted to ship its new Internet Explorer version 10, with the feature already enabled, which means users that wish to allow tracking of their visits to websites must find and change the switch in their browser themselves.

At present, web site owners have three main options regarding tracking of users. The first is to not do any tracking at all. In this scenario, when a user visits a website, no cookies are created or saved to the user hard drive and no data is read regarding them. In the second scenario, owners could track transit data but not data over time. In other words, they could record the IP address of the visitor, but would not create and save a cookie on their hard drive. In the third scenario, both transit data and aggregated data would be collected by grabbing an IP address, type of browser use, etc. as well as information that could be saved in a cookie, such as login ID, shopping history, associated links or "friends" etc.

Online privacy is a top priority for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under Chairman Jon Leibowitz; the agency first proposed a Do Not Track button in 2010. Leibowitz urged Web companies to voluntarily set up a system for users to opt out of online tracking, and warned that legislation could be necessary if they failed to act.

Advertisers, under pressure from the FTC, agreed earlier this year to stop tracking the browsing activity of users who had the Do Not Track feature in their browser turned on. But at the time, no browser offered Do Not Track as the default.

Microsoft is touting Windows 8 as being more compatible with touch-screen devices such as tablets. To date these have been purchased and used by affluent consumers, which means information on this segment is at risk of being lost as well.

In fact, despite Microsoft attempting to say that they are pro-privacy, their own advertising network actually ignores these tags and tracks regardless of those tags being enabled.

So what will be the next move for marketers? For starters, companies will need to accept that some valuable data sets will now be off-limits. At the same time, companies that are both responsible and forward-thinking will invest in the tools, methodologies and personnel that can make the most out of the broad array of data sources still available to them.

Although it will not be wise for the consumers to assume that there's a "one-click" way to customize privacy across every data transaction with which they're involved (grocery store purchase with loyalty card, credit card transaction at gas station, PPV purchase, registration for online sweepstakes, opt-in data sharing within social app, transaction record from tech support call, geo-location data for mobile app, Google search, etc.).

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