Online privacy has come under the microscope following the February introduction of a bill that would regulate the collection and use of information obtained from Internet tracking. The "Do Not Track Me Online Act of 2011" would give the Federal Trade Commission the right to create regulations that would force online marketers to offer online users the ability to opt-out of online tracking.
Given marketers’ pressure to focus on relevant, targeted offers, this could potentially impact the way marketers track and collect behavioral activity. “In a business environment, IT professionals may start to set company machine browser settings to a default do not track status which could have a pretty significant impact on online data collection and analytics,” said Dick Reed, CEO, Just Media. “The results in either case would be some very significant and negative impacts on both campaign targeting and analytics.”
Reed noted that retargeting techniques may become more difficult if such an act is put into effect. “If users can no longer be tracked using cookies all sequential and targeted advertising options are compromised,” he said. In the world of extended buying cycles were multiple exposures over time might be attractive to the advertiser it will be much more difficult to get the reach if large percentages of users are not allowing for tracking.”
Conversely, Jason Stewart, Director of Marketing at Demandbase, noted that the affects are geared more towards BtoC than BtoB companies, as most BtoB companies aren’t using tracking cookies. “The ones that are, typically, are using MAS tools,” he said. “That is a small (but rapidly growing) percentage at this point. I don’t think this will hurt BtoB at all. In fact, we actually think this will help further BtoB marketing, as the industry needs to shift from focusing on individual behavior to focusing on account-based activity.”
The Amazon and Facebook mentality, Stewart said, has conditioned people to be more accustomed to a personalized experience, which has actually become preferable among users on the web.
The User Impact and The Right to Choose
Some industry insiders have suggested that organizations subscribe to a choice mechanism, which would enable users to opt-in or out of various tracking capabilities. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox have both recently announced plans to cater to the “Do Not Track” proposal in future browser versions. With the integration of the “Do Not Track” option into Firefox 4 Beta, users can now check a “Do Not Track” box in the “Advanced” screen of Firefox’s Options, according to The Mozilla Blog. When this option is selected, a header will be sent to notify web sites that a user has opted-out of online behavioral tracking. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 also offers a tracking protection scheme that will block cookies to proactively prevent specific sites from collecting information.
“This header approach may be a good way to reduce the friction of managing opt-ins and opt-outs,” said Josh Aberant, Direct of Privacy at Marketo. “For such a mechanism to work, companies will need to standardize the privacy practices and disclosures so that all businesses are responding to the same header instructions in the same way. It will be interesting to see whether the industry can self-regulate in this standardization or whether government will need to get involved in making this happen. There’s always a risk that by the time government gets its protocols in place the technology has moved on and the protocols are out of date.”
Dennis Dayman, Chief Privacy and Security Officer at Eloqua, said that the negative implications of the proposal are reliant upon if and how “Do Not Track” is passed and enforced. Ultimately, he said, it could be detrimental to “what advertisers and marketers do best: give relevant and targeted information to their users and visitors,” he said. “In fact, we see this as having a negative impact on the users themselves. Non-technical users are not aware but the relevant Internet experience they receive today is based on harmless small technologies that tell the advertiser certain things about the users wants and needs. Even with ‘Do Not Track,’ users will still see advertising throughout their day except now none of it will be relevant to them — probably upsetting them.”
Pardot Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder Adam Blitzer said that a choice mechanism could potentially be a counterproductive effort. “People do already have the choice to prevent certain types of cookies within their browser settings,” he noted. “Ironically, any type of vendor provided opt-out mechanism would likely require yet another cookie. If the cookies are deleted, the system would likely start tracking the prospect again.”
In response to the legislation, business information provider ZoomInfo issued the Business Information Manifesto, focused on distinguishing the differences in business, personal and behavioral information. The company said the distinction is necessary to protect the health of BtoB companies and the economy.
The manifesto supports regulatory protection for personal information (home addresses, names of spouses, home values, etc.) and behavioral information (tracking online personal information and behavior across web properties). But it posits that business information — basic organizational information, job title, business phone number, email address, etc. — is not private, and therefore should not be treated the same as personal and behavioral information, according to the company.
Doing so would slow the economy, ZoomInfo said, because the business landscape relies on the ability of businesses to efficiently connect with each other and conduct commerce. The company encouraged the industry and lawmakers to clarify practices and regulations around the fair use of business information.
“It has unfortunately become easy to find personal information yet incredibly difficult to determine who holds a particular position at a company and how to reach that person. Why?” asked Yonatan Stern, CEO, ZoomInfo. “One reason is historic. In the past, companies considered information about their employees to be proprietary, in part to protect themselves from other companies extending unsolicited job offers to their staffs. But with the frequency at which people change jobs today, that concern is no longer relevant. And cloistering business data is antiquated thinking.”
Stern expressed concern that proposed legislation and regulations, while appropriately protecting personal and behavioral information, could lead to a restriction in the flow of business information and hinder businesses’ ability to conduct commerce. He said that ZoomInfo hopes to open a dialogue among BtoB organizations and that others will adopt the manifesto and join its effort to assure that businesses have the highly accessible and accurate information they need.