Calls for Do Not Track List Underscore Importance of Permission-based MarketingRecently, consumer advocacy groups have been clamoring for the establishment of a Do Not Track registry for online users, similar to the ones already implemented as Do Not Call and Do Not Fax lists. It would forbid marketers to use cookies and other similar behavior tracking technology with any consumer who signed up to the registry.

Such technology is widely used by most major web sites to personalize the visitor experience, from recommended items based on previous purchase behaviors to highly targeted ads that appeal to their areas of interest. Features like that can indeed enhance a user\’s interaction with a site but thanks to Orwelian notions of being tracked by an unseen presence, some people have begun to protest their ongoing use.

The big online companies have already begun to take action to ensure they aren\’t labeled as \”Big Brother.\” According to a recent article in InformationWeek, AOL recently sent their members some guidelines for how behavioral ad targeting works and is promising a simpler opt-out process for those who do not wish to be tracked. Google, Microsoft and have also pledged to remove cookie information about their visitors after 2 years and make this information anonymous after 18 months. Other major sites are expected to follow suit.

However, a lot of this information is willingly volunteered by consumers upon sign-up or via incentives from marketers looking to exchange access to their information for free/discounted products and services. One of the biggest examples are shopping recommendation engines like Amazon uses to suggest other items that match the consumer\’s past purchases.

Services like this are, in reality, really no different than more overt behavioral ads but the presentation is more subtle and therefore more acceptable. It\’s similar to receiving a newsletter from a site a consumer visits frequently vs. a 3rd party email hawking some product that may or may not be what the consumer is seeking.

The goal of the proposed Do Not Track policy is to protect consumer data from being used in unsolicited marketing message. The key word there is unsolicited. Responsible marketers who use permission-based means to collect their data should not be dramatically affected even if this law gets passed.

Companies need to be transparent in their data collection methods and make sure that their consumers are aware how their data will be used to enhance their experience with a particular company. Failure to do so can result in a loss of trust with consumers and will subject you to potential legal issues in the future. Honesty, as they say, is always the best policy, particularly when it comes to digital marketing.

What data collection to do you use as marketers and are you at risk if a Do Not Track law passes? Share your thoughts and comments below.

Steve Chipman