Consumers want control over their personal data.

Such a short seemingly uncontroversial statement. Yet one loaded gun for an advertising industry that had only just rediscovered its mojo after its traditional models had been torn apart by the internet. “How are we supposed to know what people want if we can’t track their every click?” – they ask.

The evidence that consumers do indeed want to control their data – including their data exhaust – is mounting. The issue of control was the single biggest finding of this comprehensive survey of 5000 UK citizens undertaken by Demos. And the  mainstream has picked up the meme with reports of ‘Crypto Nights’ in the popular press (here). And then there is the growth in downloads of browser extensions like Ghostery and AdBlocker.

So when Microsoft suggested that they would turn on ‘Do Not Track’ by default in their latest browser, it seemed like a good idea. Until it wasn’t…

  • The New York Times (here) – summarises the sputtering objections from the advertising industry and the pros and cons of the debate.
  • ZDnet (here) – chuckles over the absurdity of it all.

These debates reflect badly on the self-regulated approach that is promoted by the advertising industry. Lack of progress on a resolution suggests that it is only a matter of time until legislation catches up. Recent comments by the European Commissioner (here) suggest that moves are afoot in that part of the world. While in the US, the Federal Trade Commission has proposed Do Not Track become the standard (here).

The odds are that if consumers want control, it will happen – one way or another.

Matthew Mobley argues that the winners from DNT will be those companies that are explicitly authorised to collect our personal data – most conspicuously the social media bohemeths (here). If you are happy to share yourself with your social media provider, I guess that is right.

I’m not convinced that this arrangement delivers the type of control that people are looking for. Ultimately, these companies are aligned to the advertisers on their networks, rather than the consumer. This conflict is already the source of plenty of angst, the imposition of DNT would surely magnify the concerns.

 

Conclusion

We’d argue that the evolution of VRM tools is more likely to lead to the rise of bilateral sharing of data – that is, we will share our data with our commercial and community relationships directly and uniquely according to the nature of that relationship. Our health insurer doesn’t need to know about our preference for stripes on polka-dots. If we want to broadcast our intentions, then we will have the choice of doing so under the veil of anonymity. This is where the likes of Kynetx and the Digital Asset Grid are going (here). All power to them.

(For more reading on the Do Not Track movement head over to the official website at http://donottrack.us.)