ADOTAS – A few hours before Microsoft unveiled Internet Explorer 9 Release Candidate in a typically garish production at San Francisco’s Hang Art Gallery, I sat in a booth at the back of a reasonably-sized Cafe Metro in NYC midtown, sipping coffee and discussing the innards of IE9’s Tracking Protection service with TRUSTe CEO Chris Babel.
Microsoft’s response to the “Do Not Track” furor unleashed by the Federal Trade Commission, an opt-in service that lets users subscribe to multiple lists of approved and unapproved targeting URLs, has been met with equal outrage by the online advertising community. Bizo CEO Russell Glass commented on the Tracking Protection service: “I give this a B for the concept, an F for laziness in implementation, an F for usability and an F for coordination with the industry.”
Back in December, Microsoft wrote on its IE9 blog, “Anyone or any organization can create a TPLs [Tracking Protection Lists] (it is just a file that can be placed on a website) and consumers can add and remove lists as they see fit, having more than one if they wish. To keep everyone’s experience up to date, the browser will automatically check for updates to lists on a regular basis.” The initial Tracking Protection Lists come from Abine, Adblock, Privacy Choice and TRUSTe.
Babel commented that opting in to Tracking Protection is similar to installing a browser plugin that prohibits tracking, except the former service is tied into the browser’s core functionality. In addition, users can sign up for multiple lists, which contain lists of URLs labeled “allow,” “block” or “neutral.” Neutral URLs will be allowed to serve ads to browsers using Tracking Protection, and a URL can serve an ad if it is blocked on one list and approved on another — but only if the user has selected both TPLs.
Any client of TRUSTe’s gets an allow pass as well as URLs possessing Digital Advertising Alliance certification, which can be granted by TRUSTe, Evidon (formerly Better Advertising) and DoubleVerify. Evidon is the DAA’s watchdog, reporting targeters failing to use the Forward I icon appropriately to the Direct Marketing Association — which in turn has threatened to publish violators –whereas TRUSTe is a compliance vendor for both the supply (publishers) and demand (advertisers, agencies and ad networks) sides.
TRUSTe has compiled a list of 300 definitive trackers and sent them notifications that unless they receive DAA certification from any of the supported vendors, they will be given a big block mark in 30 days.
Will ad technology firms consider it a racket? Probably, but Babel thinks its an opportune way to spread targeting and privacy standards across the online advertising landscape.
“I’m really excited by the action,” he said. “We’re recognizing user privacy without killing the targeted ad industry.”
IE9’s Tracking Protection differs from other browsers’ Do Not Track initiatives. Mozilla has turned on a “Do Not Track Me” button, but it’s not clear whether publishers will honor the setting. Google’s has a Chrome extension that is essentially an “evercookie” — when cookies are deleted by the user, the track-blocking cookie will remain to fulfill its duties.
“How do you stop tracking cookies? By dropping a cookie,” Babel quipped.
Most consumers are aware they are being tracked and targeted when browsing online, he commented, but they don’t understand how the process works. The educational process will take a while.
A few months ago, TRUSTe tested a privacy icon with a publisher client — 1% of visitors clicked through and only 0.1% opted out of targeting. For those that clicked, TRUSTe asked for a bit of feedback — the majority of the 10,000 respondents said they just didn’t want to look at ads, but a little over 50% were thankful to learn about the practice.
“The key is choice,” Babel said.