As the debate rages and the wheels of government continue to churn, what will the result be for users and advertisers? It all depends on whether we end up with a self-policing, industry-driven solution, or greater government intervention. At DMi, our perspective is that the current front-runner—and the most agreeable solution for advertisers and users alike—is the Firefox/IE9 do-not-track option. It would result in enablers of the feature not receiving behaviorally targeted advertising that uses past browsing history to determine which ads to serve.
The long-term effect on the online advertising industry itself depends on the adoption rate of the winning solution(s) and/or the shape of legislation.
Why Consumers Would Lose
On the consumer side, there is no guarantee that an offer of greater privacy protection will lead to widespread adoption. Some critics note that browser-based features such as these are not always easy for the average user to implement, nor do they cover every form of tracking. But the fact is, many of the things that consumers have come to expect from a browsing experience—notably the timely delivery of relevant information and personalized marketing—depend on the very sort of behavioral targeting that has become the subject of the debate.
For advertisers, the ability to serve targeted ads to the consumers they want to reach most, wherever they may be, has been proven to be far more effective than simply buying on a site-by-site basis. Despite protests from critics, targeted advertising simply offers a far richer experience for the advertiser and the consumer alike, and is a major driver of revenue for content creators.
If the government imposes a solution, the outlook is even less clear. Current proposals range from solutions very similar to the industry-implemented initiatives to far more powerful and radical approaches, such as the complete outlawing of cookies or entirely changing the rules of consumer data usage. This would not only end behavioral advertising as we know it, but would throw a wrench into the very nature of e-commerce itself. Online shopping portals are dependent on cookies to remember shopping baskets and user preferences.