A massive push on securing opt-ins from consumers on cookies is well under way both here and in the US.

For the record, and contrary to what you might think, I’m glad, if only because it forces us to review how we failed so badly to keep the wider world informed about how online advertising works.

I’ve been interested in the issue of cookies for longer than
I care to remember. I published a research paper back in 2004 identifying that
30% of cookies are deleted by users and this helps us understand the backdrop
from a user perspective to recent moves by regulators to ensure the digital
industry gains fully-informed opt-in on tracking.

You see, if users do know what cookies do, they are prone to
getting rid of them.
That their decision is likely ill-informed is irrelevant
for, while we failed to take the initiative on educating end users about what
online tracking actually means in our desperate chase for ad budgets
, the
debate on cookies has now been taken out of our hands.

All tracking is required to be opt-in in the UK by April
2011 and the FTC in the US is pushing for similar legislation over there. What,
practically speaking, that means is still unclear. Will an all-encompassing
opt-in on browser start-up be enough? Or are we really expected to get a ‘yes’
from a user every time we want to drop a cookie? If the former, we should be okay
– if the latter, we’re in real trouble.

TagMan’s position is clear: we offer a global opt-out for
consumers to all tracking in our own marketing and enable our advertiser
clients, through our container tag, to do exactly the same. We also encourage
them to be clear and transparent about how and why visitors are tracked
.
However, we are but an enabler and fully understand the reluctance to help
users duck out of the targeting that makes online an ever-more effective
marketing universe.

But, the industry has clearly not fought the ‘it’s for their
own good!’ argument hard or well enough. If we are to avoid an implementation
of the newly beefed-up privacy regulations that would fundamentally undermine
the entire online advertising ecosystem, we must start now. We can all help in
this process ourselves, by rewriting our privacy policies so that they are
clear about what information is collected and how it is used and then promoting
that information more clearly to end users.

We’re pretty happy with the way our privacy policy explains
why and how users are tracked, though we’d love to hear if you have come across
better ways of doing this. In the meantime, we should all be considering just
how to keep the end-users of all the wonders of the web educated about how that
content is provided.