W3C's failed Do Not Track crusade tumbles to ad-blockers' Vietnam

Worst outcome ever for clueless online admen


I've heard of these 'ads' of which you speak. What are they?

Tech-savvy users haven't seen an ad in years. Tech-savvy users have ad blockers and privacy tools like Ghostery. And that is beginning to trickle down to more and more users on the web.

Searches for terms like "ad blocker" or "ad block" have been increasing steadily for many years, and jump up even more dramatically in the last two years.

And less tech-savvy users may soon be joining the rest of us on the ad-blocked web if Apple and Mozilla move forward with their plans for built in tracker-blocking tools in Safari and Firefox.

Instead of finding a happy middle ground, the advertising industry will be faced by tools far more powerful and far-reaching than a header broadcast by a web browser.

Instead of a web standard that most people probably would never have known about or turned on, advertisers are going to get built-in ad blockers and cookie-blocking tools like the EFF's Privacy Badger, which automatically block tracking cookies from sites that refuse to support DNT.

Instead of having a chance to try tactics like denying content to users with DNT turned on (one possible market solution for sites that can't think beyond advertising and tracking), advertisers won't know for sure if they reached users or not. Instead of a little less data, or perhaps even a little more data, many users will simply disappear behind their own privacy tools.

That the ad industry still doesn't get it can be seen in its proposals to further weaken the Do Not Track standard. Many in the industry want language in the standard that would allow companies to interpret DNT to apply only to tracking that directly serves targeted advertising. That is, they would like to continue tracking even in the presence of a DNT header, but not use any gathered information for advertising. Instead it would be used for things like "market research" or to improve products.

Luckily for the ad industry, the Last Call period that DNT has just entered will last for three months, during which objections will no doubt be heard. After that, though, statements like Toth's won't just be disingenuous; they'll be false. Once DNT becomes a bona fide standard it will be very clear what DNT means. All that will remain to be seen is whether or not any advertisers will support it.

In the meantime, the rest of us will be happily routing around the damage with ad blockers and privacy tools. ®

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