Many advertisers have been expressing their concerns over the proposed legislation that will prohibit advertisers from tracking those who decide to opt-out of online tracking programs. This “Do Not Track” legislation, proposed by the Federal Trade Commission last December and similar in nature to the “Do Not Call Registry”, is still on the table in the U.S. House of Representatives and the California state legislature and has the potential of rendering programs like Google Analytics ineffective due to lack of trackable data.
This “Do Not Track” legislation would require all browsers to support a universal opt-out mechanism that users could easily access. The concern for advertisers is that many online businesses utilize a tracking code that places a cookie on the visitor’s computer. This cookie tells the tracking program how long a visitor is on the site, what pages they viewed, whether or not they returned to the site, what purchases they made, and more. Advertisers can use this non-personally identifiable information to determine which ads, web pages, and navigational tools are most compelling to users.
Programs employing a “do not track” capability are currently available on the latest versions of Mozilla’s Firefox, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and most recently, Apple’s Safari browser. To take advantage of these features, users must manually decide to “opt-out” of tracking programs; to date, the huge majority of searchers are not using these programs, either because they are not aware of them, or because they don’t see a problem with being tracked anonymously for advertising purposes.
The effects of a new legislation might bring a greater awareness of the ability to opt-out, and more people are likely to do so, but since the amount of people who have already done so is negligible, most experts conclude advertisers have little to worry about in terms of being able to track visitors actions. There may be an advantage to a reduced dependency on cold, hard numbers, however: advertisers may be forced to think analytically, focus on trends and relevant samples, and develop other measurements of effectiveness that they might not otherwise have used. This could open doors to find more valuable information about marketing actions than strict numbers previously gave us.
The American public is rightly concerned about protecting online and offline privacy; it is almost inevitable that we would eventually pass a law requiring the ability to disable online tracking. If such a law is passed, and if many people use “Do Not Track” in their browser, then advertisers will simply continue to adapt to change as they have always done. If you are unsure how your business may be affected by the “Do Not Track” law, contact your SEO agency today to find out more.
Contributed by Amanda Finch, VP Operations