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Technology & Innovation

Will “Do Not Track” Gut the Online Ad Industry?

The Internet’s standards body is debating technology that allows users to make their surfing habits unavailable to advertisers. How far should the body enter the policy making realm?

What’s the Latest Development?

Some of the world’s largest Internet companies are working with the World Wide Web Consortium, an international body that sets online standards, to promote “Do Not Track” technology, enabling individual users to make their surfing habits unavailable to advertisers. Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft support the technology, perhaps as a way to differentiate their product in a time of increased privacy concerns. “However, advertisers insist they must still gather data on how many people—and in some cases which people—have viewed a particular ad on a website.”

What’s the Big Idea?

In debating Do Not Track technology, the World Wide Web Consortium is moving beyond Internet protocol into the realm of policy making. The working group within the Consortium created to discuss the issues “has already agreed that activating a Do Not Track signal would not prevent companies like Microsoft, Google, or Facebook from tracking and targeting users within their own vast websites.” Thus small online publishers, and the ad networks that support them, may have the most to lose. The debate, which turns on default browser settings, has yet to address similar privacy issues for tablets, mobiles and apps. 

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