Online advertising continues to grow by leaps and bounds, but that doesn't mean that life is easy for players in the digital ad ecosystem. In fact, the thriving online ad economy is increasingly complicated.
Unfortunately, things are only going to get more complicated. Need evidence? Look no further than last week's announcement that one of the most popular browser makers, Mozilla, will begin blocking cookies from third-party ad networks by default in Firefox 22.
More than a decade ago, Microsoft was branded by the United States government as a greedy monopolist and the company's existence was threatened by an antitrust lawsuit that could have resulted in the then-world's largest software company being broken apart.
Today, memories of Microsoft's past may have largely faded but the Redmond company is still trying to convince consumers that it's cool, and perhaps more importantly, that it's on their side. One of the ways it's doing that: declaring its support for consumer privacy.
Earlier this year, Microsoft created headlines when word broke that the Redmond software giant would enable Do Not Track (DNT) by default in the newest version of its browser, IE10. Although these claims were initially questioned, Microsoft clarified that, in an effort to "balance ease of use with choice and control," it would indeed enable DNT as part of its default settings during Windows 8 setup and IE upgrades.
That set the stage for battle and it didn't take long for the ad industry to respond to Microsoft's approach with harsh criticism.
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.
In June, Microsoft announced that it was putting its weight behind Do Not Track (DNT) efforts and would ship the next version of Internet Explorer with a DNT preference enabled.
A week later, the company's plans were called into question as it became clear that Microsoft's approach would run afoul of the current DNT specification draft, which states that a browser can't send a DNT preference "without a user's explicit consent."
So where does Microsoft stand now?
Last week, Microsoft announced that its newest browser, IE10, set to launch when the Redmond software giant releases Windows 8 later this year, would ship with its 'Do Not Track' feature turned on by default.
The announcement attracted a lot of attention, and for good reason.
Given IE's marketshare, adoption of Windows 8 and Microsoft's new browser could create a troublesome scenario for advertisers, advertising networks and publishers as large numbers of users would be opted in to Do Not Track without any action required.
Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled to the world its Windows 8 Release Preview. The release will be the last before Microsoft ships Windows 8 later this year.
The Release Preview contained plenty for industry observers and the curious to digest. There are performance improvements, more apps, better support for multiple monitors and so on and so forth.
Today, the administration of US President Barack Obama announced a blueprint for a "Privacy Bill of Rights."
The goal: "improve consumers’ privacy protections" and "give users more control over how their personal information is used on the Internet", all the while maintaining the internet's status as an "engine for innovation and economic growth."
To achieve that goal, the president has enlisted the help of some of the internet's biggest names, including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL.
Earlier this year, Mozilla added a new feature to Firefox: do not track
When enabled, the Firefox browser includes an HTTP
header intended for advertisers and publishers that indicates the user
does not want to be tracked.
Many, myself included, were skeptical about the potential efficacy of DNT, but how's it doing thus far?
Online privacy may be one of the most important digital issues of the day, and it's only getting more important as more and more people use the internet more frequently.
Not suprisingly, government is increasingly looking to assert its role in the debate. Late last year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a staff report suggesting that one attractive solution to many privacy concerns would be a Do Not Track mechanism that allows consumers to opt out of tracking.
The primary method of accomplishing this, the FTC proposed, would be a "persistent setting, similar to a cookie, on the consumer’s browser".