Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome browsers this week unveiled responses to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) call for a Do Not Track browser option.
What’s the impact on the online advertising community? Andy Ellenthal, CEO of semantic web advertising company Peer39, thinks the efforts are good for all involved, including advertisers. “Starting with the obvious, if users have the perception that they’re being stalked, it is not good — not for consumers and not for the industry,” he says. “These new tools from Google and Mozilla, which empower users to easily manage their online data exposure, address this perception by easily and openly giving users control, which is good for all parties involved — users, advertisers, publishers and even the government.”
Maybe even better for those advertisers leveraging semantic web technologies. Ellenthal previously told The Semantic Web Blog that “the increasing government pressure on audience data targeting in fact will drive a renewed interest in relevancy via semantic targeting.” Peer39 offers its SemanticMatch technology to understand web content and send along relevant ads on the fly, vs. observing their browsing habits as they visit pages across the web.
J. Brooke Aker, CMO of Expert System spin-out Admantx, sees some good coming out of it for the semantics-infused ad space, too.
Its upcoming semantics and NLP service takes into account both understanding content and the emotions it generates on the fly. “We believe this development is positive for us as one of only a handful of companies with a viable alternative to behavioral tracking that is proven and works,” he says.
He also agrees this is a plus for the publishers. “Should behavioral tracking be significantly curtailed, look for power and monetary reward to move back from ad networks to publishers. The FTC ruling gives a first-party data exception to tracking. In almost all cases, this means the publishers,” he says, which rightly own the relationships with the audiences, anyway.
The result? “Look for publishers to run their own ad networks and do their own tracking but also have their consumers’ interest and privacy more in sight and therefore protected. Then, publishers will reap more of the monetary benefits of online advertising on their own content, as it should be. This might even rescue a newspaper or two.”
Of course, it isn’t entirely certain how effective will be Google’s “Keep My Opt-Outs” extension for permanently dropping out of ad tracking cookies or Mozilla’s do-not-track feature. Aker, for instance, note that Google’s solution requires deep technical know-how to manage ad networks one-by-one. “Plus, it is disingenuous of Google to suggest they give you a mechanism to block tracking when they have a vested interest in tracking behavior to better server search ads on Google – Chrome or not. You would have to be suspicious that a Chrome “do-not-track” tool did not include Google search ads,” he says.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation sees Mozilla’s incorporation of a Do Not Track header feature into Firefox 4.1 as “taking a clear lead and building a practical way forward for people who want privacy when they browse the web.” This approach requires tracking companies to respect headers indicating that a user does not want to be tracked. As Aker points out, however, some will and some won’t. “Additionally, it looks like there is not a way to know which advertisers are complying and which are not,” he says.
However, “Mozilla’s solution comes awfully close to a true opt-in rather than an opt-out….[and] opt-in ensures that privacy is always protected first, as in any other aspect of the law and the rights of all citizens. If after I have all the information on risks and costs and benefits I still elect to grant the rights to opt-in, then so be it.”
And this could be the start of something even bigger, in Aker’s view. “One more change of removing the types of information trackers would be interested in from the browser altogether, and the issue is solved,” he says. “I would suggest that we’ll see this from browser makers before the year is out due to FTC and consumer pressure.”