Whatever the result, one thing is certain: As more and more consumers resist the notion of online tracking, advertisers will have a harder and harder time reaching their core constituencies. Success in online marketing has become so dependent on the practice of behavioral tracking that a mass adoption of online privacy solutions—whether adopted by industry or imposed by the government—would represent a seismic shift.
And let's not forget the law of unintended consequences, which is in no danger of repeal.
For online publishers and networks, the rise of "Do Not Track" could lead to a significant decrease in rates in order to keep advertisers coming back. Websites that have traditionally provided free content could also be forced to monetize their traffic by implementing paywalls to access content. The New York Times model, which now requires users to ante up between $180 and $455 per year, could become commonplace. Those who write, design and create online will face increasing pressure to monetize their content however they can. With advertising becoming a less and less attractive option, subscriptions and other strategies for getting into users' wallets will inevitably fill the void. Another strategy that might be (re)introduced to compensate for lost ad revenue is more frequent and more intrusive advertising. It's hard to imagine anyone would welcome a resurgence of pop-up ads with the end of behavioral tracking.
At the end of the day, nothing is free. As we continue to move down the road toward greater online privacy, the industry, legislators, regulators and consumers would all be well advised to carefully think through the consequences of an online world without tracking.