The Fair Trade Tracking Tango: Respect Between Dancers Isn’t Always Explicit


ADOTAS – Sometimes the web works in weird and opaque ways. Publishers are implicitly brokering relationships between consumers and advertisers. Whether consumers realize it or not, the free content tango goes something like this: The content people consume is supported by advertising revenues, which is generated by targeted ads, which are based on consumer data, which is collected by the publishers (and shared and supplemented with and by other publishers and data providers). Currently, however, this whole “brokering” thing is implicit. While most sites may have publicly available privacy policies, that doesn’t necessarily translate to publicly accessible privacy policies. Even when consumers can find those policies, the details are often difficult to understand at best. Perhaps more importantly, many consumers don’t fully recognize that the free content across the web is essentially paid for with information about them.

Let’s Get Explicit

These days there is a lot of confusion around who can access your data, what they can use it for, whom they can share it with and why you should or should not allow any of this to happen at all. It’s time to move towards a model that makes these brokered relationships explicit. Publishers exchange consumer data for revenue that pays for content. Consumers get value – indirectly – from the use of their data in the form of that content. Instead of complex and hard-to-find privacy policies and sneaky tracking techniques such as permacookies, the industry needs to embrace transparency and provide the consumer with some degree of control and the ability to understand their part in establishing an explicit and fair trade of information for content.

Transparency and Control

Previously, the relationship between a consumer and the content provider and advertiser was a one-way street: Content providers and advertisers dictated the terms to the consumer, who could only choose whether or not to visit a particular website. There are now tools (Collusion, DNT and incognito mode for example) coming onto the market that give consumers insight – and some control – into how and where and by whom their data is being used. This creates the opportunity for consumers to become more active participants in the “fair trade” of their data for content.

What’s Next

While these tools are a great start, right now this move towards transparency and control is being done in bits and pieces. The industry as a whole needs to move – rapidly – towards embracing tracking capabilities that provide marketers with the data they need and consumers with the tools for privacy and control they desire and deserve. It will make the dance much smoother – and more respectful – for all involved.


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