Ryan Jones Blog – dotCULT.com Ryan Jones Blogs About Internet Culture, Marketing, SEO, & Social Media

December 9, 2010

A Do Not Track List Won’t Work

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 2:18 pm

I’m reading a lot of articles about the FTC’s proposed “do not track list” for the web.

I’m going to ignore the fact that most articles in favor of a do not track list are actually using the type of tracking that the list is designed to stop and try to put some of my thoughts on paper.

I’m also going to ignore how pending HR1076 would legislate exactly the opposite of a do not track list by requiring all ISPs to keep IP logs for 2 years. (I’ll also ignore how the name of that implies protecting children when in reality it will just allow us to add more charges on to those abusing children)

For the record, I think the do not track list is a bad idea. A lot of parallels are being made to the do not call list, but they’re not apples to apples comparisons. In an effort to keep this short, let me make a few points:

1. It won’t stop nefarious people from tracking web visitors. Let’s face it, US laws only apply to US companies. If somebody sets up a server in Russia there’s nothing stopping them from tracking you. In fact, I’d even argue that this would send more advertising dollars out of the US and into the companies who can still accurately measure ROI and serve up behavioral ads.

2. Do not track will affect advertising rates and make ROI harder to measure. The general public may not care about marketers, but being one I feel I need to mention this. The reason online ads work better than newspaper ads is because we can measure them. Newspapers and magazines sell ads based on the assumption that every subscriber sees every page – and charge accordingly. On the web I only pay for impressions that I can verify. That helps me more effectively spend my budget and allows me to pass the savings on to my customers.

3. Ads will be less useful to users. Currently, the type of tracking the FTC wants to let users opt out of is also what prevents me from showing tampon ads to male visitors on my site. It not only prevents me from showing Viagra ads to women, but it allows me to only show offers to Canadian customers that they can actually sign up for – instead of deals that only apply in certain areas. In addition, I can look at the history of interactions you’ve had with my site and serve you up “related” products that you may be interested in buying. With a do not track button, I’d only be able to show you ads based on what page you’re looking at (similar to adsense) – and that wouldn’t be as useful to you the visitor.

4. There’s no accurate way people to opt out. I can’t track you by IP since those change. I could do it by “account” but that would require you to give me more information than I already have about you. I could do it by cookie, but something tells me most users won’t want more cookies on their machine as a result of this new legislation.

5. You can already “opt out” if you really want to. In Firefox it’s easy to block cookies from websites. There’s even a plugin called ad block plus that will help you do just that.

6. Do we really need a law where a plugin will suffice? If the government wants to allow users to opt out of tracking via a browser button, there’s nothing stopping them from creating an addon or plugin now. Why do we need legislation to do this? Put up a website and offer the plugin for download. Those who want it can get it.


  1. TL;DR version: There’s no need for a law when there’s already browser plugins to do it.

    Comment by Ryan — January 6, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

  2. With you on these points. The proposed regulations seem to be made by ill-informed bureaucrats. more of our thoughts -> http://www.hasoffers.com/blog/ftc-no-track-impact-on-affiliate-marketing/

    Comment by HasOffers — January 6, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

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