First it was Microsoft IE (starting with IE version 9 which will include ‘Tracking Protection Lists’) that announced they will include a new ‘easier’ setting to block unwanted tracking by websites you visit.
Now Firefox just announced that version 4.1 of their browser will prevent it (they are calling it ‘Do Not Track‘) as well and Google Chrome recently building in features that enable blocking (dubbed ‘Keep My Opt-Outs Out‘).
Yes, it is true, any user who wanted to block tracking in the past could do it by adjusting a few setting indicating not to accept cookie from certain sites. But this information was largely ‘hidden from view’ (not easily accessible if you didn’t know where to find it first). It was possible, but the majority of non-techies did not do it.
The new changes are going to make the ability to do this a lot easier going forward, and once you make the changes they are going to ‘stick’ this time (settings are permanent and deleting cookies will have no impact on the preferred status.)
These new changes come in response to a December 2010 Federal Trade Commission recommendation that all Web browsers add do not track features to enhance online surfer privacy.
Firefox’s ‘Do Not Track’ feature will attempt to use headers passed by the browser to alert potential sites of a visitors request to be eliminated from any tracking that could be used for OBA (Online Behavioral Advertising.) One caveat to both the Google and Firefox’s tracking blocking tools at the moment is that they only pertain to advertising companies that offer opt-out options, and advertisers have been slow to add such options themselves. IE9 is different and is said to allow the user to block any and all tracking no matter the opt-in / opt-out policy of the site in question.
The addition of such systems will no doubt have an impact on what sites begin to see from an analytical perspective, and this could mean big changes in the way you track the effectiveness of your business online. In fact, some lawmakers worry such laws could hurt the economy of the Internet. With little ability to track visits, it will become difficult to determine what works to generate the best return for a company and even harder for them to present their message accurately to the most targeted audience.
Going forward and with privacy laws getting stricter it looks like the ability to ‘opt out’ of tracking will be not only simple, but—although not currently—could be the default setting on a browser in the future (meaning that it would not require any interaction on the part of the client to stop the tracking—rather, it would be the norm and they would have to ‘turn it on’ if they wanted to be tracked.)
I understand giving users the freedom to elect whether to be tracked or not. We do that now however to some degree. Maybe making it easier to do that isn’t the answer. Couldn’t we just do better at explaining to them how to prevent it within their current browsers? Just a thought.
How these changes will affect things going forward like PPC advertising, split testing, and more is yet to be determined and only time will reveal that answer.
What are your thoughts on the ability to easily block tracking on websites using these upcoming tools? I would love to hear them.