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Is the Do Not Track Decision the Beginning of the End for Microsoft Advertising?

Adver­tis­ers have been bay­ing for Microsoft’s blood this week fol­low­ing the soft­ware giant’s announce­ment that its lat­est brows­er, IE10, will auto­mat­i­cal­ly default to Do Not Track.

This lat­est move comes after months of wran­gling between adver­tis­ers and Inter­net com­mu­ni­ties to imple­ment an opt-in Do Not Track (DNT) func­tion across all browsers by the end of 2012. By mak­ing such a stri­dent ges­ture, Microsoft may well have set a prece­dent and in doing so could poten­tial­ly be wav­ing good­bye to any ad sup­port for its prod­ucts going forward.

Imme­di­ate Dia­logue Requested

Even though adver­tis­ers have begged Microsoft to renege on its deci­sion, and despite the best efforts of Joe Liebowitz, the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion­er chair­man, Microsoft dug its heels in and defend­ed its strategy.

Cor­po­rate VP Rik van der Kooi said: “Microsoft has a clear point of view around con­sumer pri­va­cy that is expressed through the acti­va­tion of the set­ting in Inter­net Explor­er 10.

“Instead of debat­ing whether DNT is “on” or “off,” we should redou­ble our efforts as an indus­try and edu­cate con­sumers about how adver­tis­ing pays for the free Web expe­ri­ence we all now enjoy; how much rich­er people’s Web expe­ri­ences can be if they share their data with trust­ed part­ners; and how they can increas­ing­ly man­age the data they generate.”

In their pan­ic, the board of direc­tors of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Nation­al Adver­tis­ers request­ed an ‘imme­di­ate dia­logue’ with Microsoft. The Asso­ci­a­tion rep­re­sents 450 com­pa­nies and 10,000 brands and denounced the deci­sion as ‘ill considered’.

Wast­ed Work for Advertisers?

Pre­sum­ing those who cur­rent­ly use IE auto­mat­i­cal­ly upgrade to IE10, that’s 18% of all Inter­net users who would now have to choose to be tracked. Will they choose? Will they heck. And it’s this that real­ly annoys the adver­tis­ers, because they’ve put time and effort, not to men­tion bil­lions of dol­lars, into cre­at­ing smart pro­grams that can rec­og­nize what a browser’s inter­est­ed in, and throw up ads that match those inter­ests when a user lands on their site.

By hav­ing Do Not Track as a default, all of this time and mon­ey spent on such pro­grams will effec­tive­ly be wast­ed – for IE users at least. What’s more, many experts feel that by switch­ing DNT off, web­sites will return to the dark days of ban­ner ads when no one quite knew who was click­ing or why and need­ing lots of clicks to gen­er­ate any worth­while traffic.

What Do the Cyn­ics Think?

Despite the very valid argu­ments around pro­tect­ing the pri­va­cy of Inter­net users, the more cyn­i­cal among us may feel that it’s not the adver­tis­ers that are shout­ing the loud­est. It’s the adver­tis­ing com­pa­nies. Those firms who plan com­pli­cat­ed cam­paigns and promise such things as ‘added val­ue’ and use com­plex tech­nol­o­gy to tar­get ads will sim­ply become sell­ers of space in the ether. Those jobs that spe­cial­ize in track­ing would quick­ly become super­flu­ous to require­ments and the added val­ue would see its val­ue rapid­ly diminish.

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