Thursday 1 December 2011

Behavioural advertising: Scrap “do not track”. Try “do not target”

Gwendal Le Grand, head of the IT Department of the French data protection regulatory authority CNIL, made a remark, in passing, at the International Association of Privacy Professionals European congress on Paris on Tuesday, which I think could be very significant.

During a session on on-line behavioural advertising, he used words that may well resonate for a few years to come. The issue is, of course, about how individuals can (or should) object to the use of their personal information for behavioural advertising. Many of the delegates had attended an earlier presentation by Ilana Westman from the Create with Consent organisation, and were thus aware that most internet users really had no idea how their information was shared by web publishers, nor how web publishers actually found the money to pay for the content that the user, typically, was enjoying for free.

Gwendal suggested that, rather than using the phrase "do no track", individuals should really be saying “I beg you not to target me".

This is because an awful lot of tracking is going to go on, regardless of the user's stated tracking preferences. Cookies and other device features will always be monitoring how someone is navigating between the web pages, or remembering what items are in their shopping basket, but have not yet been paid for or despatched. Other forms of tracking will inevitably go on for traffic management, analytics and law enforcement purposes.

So, responsible organisations should not even think of using words and phrases that might mislead a user, such as “do not track”. There is no "cloak of invisibility" that would result in all internet usage to being unmonitored. So we should be careful not to use words or phrases that are incompatible with the legitimate expectations of Internet users.

I think this is a very sensible and practical suggestion. I'll see what I can do to encourage more people to start using this phrase.