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It's not a surprise that Microsoft's plan to effectively make enabling Do Not Track (DNT) an opt-out decision instead of an opt-in decision when setting up Internet Explorer 10 is not going over well with players in the digital advertising industry.
Online ads are a multi-billion dollar industry and while most would agree that changes resulting from consumer privacy concerns are inevitable, Microsoft's approach to Do Not Track goes further than it should.
Now, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), a group that counts the largest media and marketing associations in the United States as members, is speaking out. In an Adweek op-ed, DAA managing director Lou Mastria calls DNT "a poor policy for the long-term health of the ad-supported Internet" and argues that Microsoft's plans do exactly the opposite of what Microsoft intends. In responding to an op-ed in Adweek by Microsoft VP Rik van der Kooi, Mastria writes:
Microsoft claims that its DNT decision is designed to further educate consumers about the value exchange that comes with online advertising. We shouldn’t debate turning DNT on or off, van der Kooi says, but instead “redouble our efforts as an industry and educate consumers about how advertising pays for the free Web experience we all now enjoy[.]” But how can that be? Advertisers want smart ads, and the Internet helps deliver that; a default DNT would seem to shut that possibility down at the start. Furthermore, the education effort should be aimed at calming fears about privacy while delivering value to brands and consumers, not fanning the flames of the debate.
He goes on:
DNT, the way Microsoft is pursuing it, also fails to advance van der Kooi’s stated goal of bringing brands and consumers closer together. Rather, this is a piece of technology acting as a wedge between brands and consumers, and no one benefits when resulting ads are wasted and off the mark. We believe, as we hope Microsoft and other tech companies believe, that technology should empower brand and consumer engagement in an increasingly customer-centric world, not disrupt it.
The solution? According to Mastria, self-regulation is working, and it's the only way to advance the relationship between advertisers and consumers. That's not a surprising position given that Mastria's DAA is behind a Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising, but it's obviously one that many would take issue with.
It all boils down to the economics of ad-supported businesses
But the issue here isn't whether self-regulation is viable or not. The real issue is whether ad-supported businesses can survive and thrive if advertisers are forced to operate in an ecosystem that they believe is offering less and less.
In other words, if, as a result of DNT and other initiatives and regulations yet to be implemented, advertisers feel that they're less able able to deliver ads to consumers online in a targeted fashion, it stands to reason that online ads lose some of their luster and thus become less valuable. That, in turn, may make it more difficult for publishers to monetize their eyeballs.
Obviously, advertisers won't abandon digital; but if they pay less for ads that are less-capable, the grand bargain between publishers and consumers -- your attention for content and functionality -- may become more difficult for many publishers to maintain.