If advertising is dead (and click that link to see why I assert that it is), “Do Not Track” is . . . well, I’m not sure Do Not Track is actually anything.

In the USA, we have a long history of government “protection” of our “privacy”. I put both of those words in quotes very much on purpose; despite growing efforts, our government is less and less capable of protecting us from much of anything, let alone information-based transgressions, and as for privacy, well, there is no privacy.

I bring this up now because a few days ago Microsoft announced that in the next version of their Internet Explorer web browsing software, do not track” will be the default. This means that if you use Internet Explorer then unless and until you go out of your way to tell it that you’re OK with advertisers tracking your movements on the Internet, they won’t be able to. Which sounds pretty cool.

Except that when the US Government created a “privacy bill of rights” a few months back they cut a side deal with The Digital Advertising Alliance. And that deal was simple: The Digital Advertising Allowance agreed to support privacy in the form of do not track technology, so long as Do Not Track was turned off by default.

Now aside from being a member of the Digital Advertising Alliance, Microsoft is under no obligation to follow its ideals and directives. And being Microsoft (read: bringing a lot of power and money to the table), it’s not as though the DAA will punish them for supporting Do Not Track by making it the default in Internet Explorer.

But the business change implications in Microsoft breaking with the Digital Advertising Alliance’s established guidelines are huge.

Look at other attempts to protect you from marketing messages. Have you ever tried to opt out of junk mail, sales phone calls, or SPAM? Did it work? That was a rhetorical question; of course it didn’t. Absent an effective firewall, companies looking to market to you will always find a way to get their messages delivered.

Governments simply don’t have the enforcement capacity to keep marketers from getting to you. Oh sure, they can pass laws and there will be the occasional prosecution, but in the end the only way the politics surrounding privacy will ever work in your favor is when an entity like Microsoft just plain steps up.

My goodness, look at how 60 Minutes is trying to steal your personal data. Check out Facebook on privacy; The Social Network‘s entire business model is predicated on “complying with regulations”, but never quite getting into the spirit of things. Data isn’t private unless the people who handle yours want it to be.

And no, Microsoft isn’t being altruistic; they’ve simply decided that putting your privacy in your hands (and perhaps encouraging you to give it right back) is a good business decision.

So let’s be clear: while your SmartPhone can rat you out, in most ways, it probably isn’t. But the Googles and Facebooks of the world might as well merge, because privacy, if it ever existed, is dead.

And because computers are too hard, it’s Microsoft who, if they want to make themselves look good, can go a lot further to protect you than a government or a series of laws can.

Your job? Pay attention. And if you’re coming at this from the pragmatic marketer’s side, please start taking long tail marketing very, very seriously.

Need help with that last part? I’m right here.

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