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Microsoft Battles Major Advertisers Over 'Do Not Track' Browser Feature

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It's Goliath vs. a bunch of other Goliaths in an online privacy war.

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The New York Times explains why advertisers are so worked up over the Do Not Track technology:

The advent of Do Not Track threatens the barter system wherein consumers allow sites and third-party ad networks to collect information about their online activities in exchange for open access to maps, e-mail, games, music, social networks, and whatnot. Marketers have been fighting to preserve this arrangement, saying that collecting consumer data powers effective advertising tailored to a user's tastes. In turn, according to this argument, those tailored ads enable smaller sites to thrive and provide rich content.

Advertisers believe that Microsoft is crossing the line because data collectors are actually not legally obligated to honor browser Do Not Track requests. They only do it so long as long as the Do Not Track function remains an opt-in setting. The Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry consortium, has said that it will waive the requirement of its members to honor Internet Explorer 10's Do Not Track requests.

Another industry group, the Direct Marketing Association, also argues that tracking online activity actually benefits consumers, saying, "Consumers love getting what they want-information, products, benefits, upgrades-when they want it… There is no evidence that data-driven marketing harms consumers in any way," notes IEEE Spectrum.

Many advertisers say that an under-publicized effect of the Do Not Track feature is that consumers' online browsing experience will change when advertisers and publishers cannot track data anonymously.

"One of the things lost in this debate is consumers will have a materially different experience online. And I think we've got to champion that more loudly," Wendy Clark, senior VP-integrated marketing communications and capabilities at Coca-Cola, told Advertising Age, though she did not specify how the user experience would be different.

For its part, Microsoft is not standing down, even in the face of intense pressure to do so. In an emailed statement, Microsoft Chief Privacy Officer Brendon Lynch pointed out that a recent company survey of US and European Web users found that 75% of respondents preferred for Do Not Track to be turned on in Internet Explorer's default setting. He also said that Microsoft was committed "to privacy by design and putting people first... We also believe that targeted advertising can be beneficial to both consumers and businesses. As such, we will continue to work toward an industry-wide definition of tracking protection."

Twitter: @sterlingwong
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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