Why IE’s Do Not Track Default Setting Is Bad News for Advertisers

Ah, the Internet and privacy. Two things that can never seem to get along together all that well. From Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy chirping in 1999(!) that “You already have zero privacy; get over it” to Mark Zuckerberg more recently stating (with a straight face, no less) that “Our work to improve privacy continues today,” the issue of keeping our information and browsing histories to ourselves remains, well, an issue.

But that could be changing, at least as privacy relates to the searches we make and the websites we frequent. The newest version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, IE 10, will come with its Do Not Track setting as the default. (This is opposed to Chrome, for example, which gives users the “incognito” private-browsing option, but doesn’t launch automatically.) And judging by how the general public views cookie tracking, Microsoft’s IE decision will likely be warmly received by all. Oh, except by advertisers.

By not sharing website browsing information with advertisers, brands will lose the ability to remarket products that potential buyers have demonstrated a previous interest in. Remarketing is one of the most effective forms of online advertising, and knowing who to remarket to and what to remarket to them is extremely valuable data. Many digital advertisers get their highest return on investment (ROI) through remarketing, particularly when luring (OK, “suggesting”) that previous visitors return to their site through special discounts or offers. Depending on whom you ask, this is either an annoying invasion of privacy or a welcome message that speaks to a specific, demonstrated need.

I value my privacy on the Internet as much as anyone, but web-goers will be losing out if they switch to private browsing all of the time. Ads that remarket products based on an existing known interest aren’t there to be creepy stalkers; rather, they are there to help remind someone who still might be considering a purchase. Sure, we can get a little annoyed when we stop short of buying a new set of golf clubs and then see ads for those clubs pop up on every website we visit for the next two weeks. But at least it’s relevant advertising, and, for a lot of us, the remarketing effort will eventually end up in a sale. By taking your web browsing off the radar, you’ll find yourself transported to the Internet of yesteryear with random ad after random ad touting products you have no interest in. To me, targeted information about products is more worthwhile than irrelevant products I have no need for. I’d wager that most people – whether they admit it to themselves or not – would prefer a tailored message than a constant flow of advertisements that don’t hit home.

It will be interesting to see how advertisers and brands react to the uptick in private browsing. One solution websites might try is asking visitors for permission to remarket to them – although the visitor would then have to alter her cookie settings for your site, should she agree. In the short term, it’s probably most reasonable to predict that Do Not Track will affect marketing budgets, since there figures to be fewer clicks to put money toward. We could see dollars being shifted to search network campaigns, social media endeavors, or just being cut altogether.

If you’re an advertiser, how do you think changes in private browsing settings will affect remarketing campaigns? If you’re a consumer, would you rather be served remarketed ads based on your browsing history, or keep your privacy and have (probably) less relevant ads?

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