Tuesday, June 26, 2012

DNT is a wake-up call. Stop and listen

Much of the debate around the Do Not Track (DNT) controversy is around Microsoft setting it as a default in Internet Explorer 10. The debate has been a healthy one for the industry and Microsoft deserves credit for taking a stance. Often it is the case that change only happens when an individual takes a position and is challenged. I don’t believe anyone is truly against the DNT specification, but not everyone is on the same page on the ethics of using it, the default settings, and the consequences.

Though I will point out that everyone should take a careful note and watch how this unfolds. Do Not Track is a wake up call. It is a wake up call for consumers and for marketers, agencies, technology companies and even the investment community (VC's, angels, founders etc.).

A few things are a definite:
  • privacy is taking front stage with consumers
  • consumers have and will continue to have more options around privacy
  • privacy is getting the attention of policy makers
  • the EU directive has broken new ground and everyone is watching closely
  • tracking and privacy is not going away and will only become more scrutinized
  • ad targeting will be very different than what we know today
  • we have an industry that is anchored in dated technology
Yes it is possible that the behavioral targeting/advertising is at risk of going away at the flip of a switch as stated by Tom Espos who calls for a BT contingency plan. In reality, this of course will not happen over night, this of course won’t cause a lumascape landslide over night, and web sites and the internet will not crumble. It will be different, but it will not be as catastrophic as some may portray it. Some will suffer, some will die, some will change, and many will emerge and flourish. Whatever the outcome is, this will be for sure.

Your concern should be where you fit in all of this. Are you ready for change? Let’s for a moment consider what behavioral ad targeting is riding on. It’s not the threat of DNT or other privacy initiatives, it’s biggest threat is it’s reliance on the third party cookie. At the crux of the issue is this little third party cookie that was probably intended to be used for convenience by web sites and services, has been abused, poorly implemented, and circumvented a whole industry.

If I was involved in any cookie based dependent technology, I would be scared. Scared at the fragility of it. Here are a few points to consider:
  • third party cookies (or cookies in general) are very unreliable
  • they get deleted all the time
  • browsers vary greatly on how they manage them
  • user settings are all over the board
  • have a bad rap in the media
  • have a bad rap by most consumers
  • are very limited in the data they can store
  • the size and number of cookies are inconsistent across browsers
  • are awful for any measurement
  • multiple users across machines renders them mostly useless and reliable
For these simple points, ad targeting cannot not evolve as a third-party cookie based technology. Those who survive and thrive will be those who can see beyond today’s limitations and evolve their technology and services.

For us at Crowd Science, (warning: shameless plug for the company I am a co-founder at) we specifically and purposely built our technology stack around opt-in using research principals, around value propositions for the publisher and visitor, and without the reliance on cookies. Crowd Science Audience modeling is based on a sophisticated audience prediction engine, and only utilizes cookies for convenience, not as a necessity, and our little know secret is that a cookie-less operating mode has been in operation since the inception.

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