In June, Microsoft announced that the next version of Internet Explorer, its widely-used operating system, would ship with the "do not track" setting enabled. In practice, this means that advertisers need to convince IE 10 users to allow them to track activity and target them for specific advertising content.
In response, the DIgital Advertising Alliance (DAA), a coalition of companies that operate in the ad network, ad agency and advertiser spaces, advised its members that they could ignore the setting if it is set by default on the browser. The DAA argues that individuals should opt out on their own, not as the result of a default setting on IE 10. Yahoo recently announced that it would follow the DAA's lead and ignore a default setting.
The DAA's statement on the topic read in part:
“The trade associations that lead the DAA do not believe that Microsoft’s IE10 browser settings are an appropriate standard for providing consumer choice. Machine-driven "do not track" does not represent user choice; it represents browser-manufacturer choice.”
Already criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, this DAA stance is unfortunate. Its own guidelines for targeted advertising were crafted with consumer friendliness in mind:
"The cross-industry Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising was developed by leading industry associations to apply consumer-friendly standards to online behavioral advertising across the Internet. Online behavioral advertising increasingly supports the convenient access to content, services, and applications over the Internet that consumers have come to expect at no cost to them."
The debate about default settings is a simple one. Members of the DAA want to be able to collect data without having to first convince web users that it is in their interest to give up their browsing behavior. By making "do not track" the default setting, Internet Explorer gives consumers the primary choice. Other browsers could follow suit, weakening the value of the web for online marketers.
Control here is already migrating toward end-users; Microsoft's decision reflects consumer preference much more than it leads it. By adopting a self-serving perspective and encouraging its members to ignore a browser setting, the DAA is inviting privacy legislation that would undermine its to-date voluntary compliance efforts.
It's true that convincing users to opt-in takes more work than allowing them to opt out, but the respect gained and transparency afforded make it worth the effort. If marketers need a reminder, they need look only to Google and the ill will created as it tried to convince book publishers that they could just opt out of its book-scanning efforts.
A bit of disclosure: With a consulting colleague, I have done work with the Direct Marketing Association, an industry association that provides support for the DAA. The position taken here is my own, and it is based on published reports, without reference to any information collected in the course of our assignment, which ended in May 2012.