Parting thoughts on the Great Debate - Do Not Track: The pros and cons of being followed

Parting thoughts on the Great Debate - Do Not Track: The pros and cons of being followed

Summary: An unabridged version of my closing arguments to a very interesting debate.

TOPICS: Google

Yesterday I had the opportunity to debate do-not-track provisions and standards for web browsers with Ed Bott. Admittedly, I took the unpopular stance that users should need to opt out of tracking rather than opt in. It's not, though, as most people would expect, because I'm so bullishly pro-Google. All of us debaters get to write closing arguments, but we're limited to 150 words. I was feeling a bit more long-winded than that, so here are my unabridged parting thoughts.

Advocates for do-not-track provisions in browsers have the upper hand in this debate: Who doesn't want their privacy protected? Who wakes up one morning and thinks, "Gosh, I should really share some more of my personal data with Google and Facebook"? The answer, of course, is nobody.

However, there are many, many small business owners who wake up and say "Yesterday, my online ad campaign helped me find 15 new customers. Today, I'm going to tweak my ad a bit and spend a little will be worth it if I can hit 20 conversions today." We don't like being thought of as "conversions", marketing speak for web surfers who click through an ad and actually become customers. But to countless small business owners, ad networks like Google Adwords represent a powerful tool for expanding their customer bases.

On the 10th anniversary of Google Adwords two years ago, an article in the Guardian explained, "The overwhelming majority [of Adwords customers] are small and medium-size businesses. AdWords offers a way to grow that "wasn't possible to them before – the market was just too inefficient," says [then managing director for Google in the UK and Ireland, Matt] Brittin.:

The same goes for the many small sites that survive by subscribing to Adsense or for small businesses that advertise on Facebook and LinkedIn. Ad networks that allow careful targeting of users interested in particular products provide an easy means of generating revenue and finding new customers around the world.

The majority of this is enabled by the very tracking cookies that advocates for a default do-not-track setting in browsers are trying to eliminate (or at least limit in their effectiveness). While my colleague, Ed Bott, suggested that these sites and small businesses simply need a better business model, the reality is that targeted advertising keeps a wide swath of the web free and makes more than a small chunk of the Internet economy go round and round.

Yes, users should be able to opt out of tracking. But forcing them to opt in (which most simply won't do) will have impacts that reach far beyond Google's deep pockets and into the far shallower pockets of small businesses that survive and grow because of the small price most of us pay in perceived privacy. The same privacy that literally billions of people have already waived in much more substantial ways by tweeting their whereabouts, joining Facebook, checking in on Foursquare, and posting their daughter's birthday parties on YouTube.

Privacy, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

Topic: Google

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • it's not the small businesses that are the problem

    it's bad people with bad intentions. Large corporations making money off of putting their data on my computer is a problem. there is no real benefit to me, but they are making a living off of my habits, and property.

    That said, if they want to track me when I'm on their site, take my ip address, keep track of what I'm doing on their servers, fine. If they all want to get together and share the data it's really fair, and creates a marketplace for information.

    If they want to share data by using my computer, get a better business model!!!!

    I can't imagine wanting the phone company to share my call data. "called 17 lumber yards yesterday", but that's what it is. If small businesses need to find customers, then perhaps the web isn't doing the job as is and needs a tweak.

    Giving spammers and hackers ammunition for targeted attacks just isn't my idea of good sense.
    sparkle farkle
    • you know nothing about the web

      comparing tracking the phone call numbers is nothing like protecting against cookie tracking you because there is no law to ban the latter.
      The Linux Geek
      • The orthodox Libertarian view is...

        ...that there should be no law to ban the former either and neither is needed because we're all mature adults who can take care of ourselves (or should be).

        Sorry to say, though, caveat emptor doesn't work all that well in the real world.

        I only mention this because you are a self-proclaimed libertarian.
        John L. Ries
  • You are doing it for the children

    Got it.
    Your Non Advocate
    • the children deserve to be empowered

      by FOSS and free services, not encumbered by yesterday's paranoid habits.
      Children and the young get Google's motto "Do no evil", unlike you.
      The Linux Geek
      • You don't get it do you?

        An advertising company's motto is do no evil.

        Sorry, I think that's in the job description ;-)
  • I agree

    google created millions of jobs by tracking people so the benefits are obvious despite a few lame whiners that are in M$ and apple's pockets.
    The whiners should stop using facebook and youtube before they are complaining about cookies, or show me where in the constitution is the do not track by default written.
    The Linux Geek
  • I guess I'm a whiner

    Older generation folks like me don't neccessarilly like cookies. I don't like it when I go surfing that, for instance, shows me what I've been looking at on their site at all the other sites I visit. There it is at the side of the screen constantly distracting me with what I looked at. Maybe some enjoy that. I don't. Now, I don't do youtube nor Facebook. I guess (the illusion of privacy), still means something to me.
  • Again: Do not track is like the MS Firewall ..... FAKE SECURITY

    Just like the "firewall" part of the MS Firewall is nothing more than the name, the do-not-track option is about the same ... just a name. It has ZERO legal weight and it completely relies on the good faith of the website you are visiting. Its barely nothing more than a flag .... a flag that can be ignored at any time.
  • "Do not track" opt-out by default is bizarre.

    Cookies are the lifeblood of paid online advertising.

    If every browser session across the world were to turn cookies off, it is no exaggeration to say that paid online advertising would be dead.


    Because there would be no way to attribute ad spending to ad earning.

    Ecommerce merchants would be going out of business rapidly.

    Maybe there would be a big pushback from advertisers who would then clearly state on their website "You cannot buy anything from this site unless cookies are enabled - click here to enable cookies now".
    • which is why online advertising is failing

      the tv networks can't stand the internet for that reason. With tv it is enough to show the ads, why do they need to collect data. I constantly get asked for input while watching tv. Really lame. I'm not suddenly going to break out 1000 dollars because of targeted advertising.

      If I see the ad placed enough, it generates interest. Intrusive advertising has less weight, because it's someone forcing me to look at something I don't want, not enticing me. It's actually negative in some respects.
      sparkle farkle
  • I LOVE the targeted ads that I see!

    I researched outdoor grill options for a buddy, I have checked out a few new cars, and I checked prices on SSD???s recently. In addition, my business is in water quality and hydro electric energy. Needless to say, the ads I am seeing today are for outdoor grills, BMW's, solid state drives, and water filters.
    Am I insulted by this? No!
    Do I feel that someone has intruded on my privacy? No!
    Heck, I would rather see BMW ads than ads for new laptops (today).
    I like to think of this targeted marketing as a friendly librarian who has helped me check out information on grills and cars, and calls my attention to a new magazine and book that I might be interested in.
    Of course ... if you are checking out how to make fertilizer bombs or make AK-47's in your basement, I can see your need for privacy; and maybe even some counseling.
  • Oakley

    Trust me; I've learned a few cool things from those magazines myself. This too will show the judge that you are committed to raising your child.Remember