Implications of the “Do Not Track” Movement

Just when you were starting to figure it out online, leave it to potential legislation to ruin it.

Well, maybe not totally ruin it, but at least make it harder. That’s my take on the potential for FTC policy and future legislation on an Internet “Do Not Track” list. While I agree that consumers should have every right to raise their hand for privacy whenever they desire, I think it also raises the bar alot higher for marketers who don’t want to be covered by their customers’ “Do Not Track” blankets.

I’m hoping that policymakers take a good, long look at arguments like David Greene’s post on why the Do Not Track line of thinking may be misguided. While I like and agree with that line of thinking, the Do Not Track movement may have too much momentum to be stopped — Microsoft already announced that when Internet Explorer 9 is released in 2011 it will have a feature included that allows users to restrict sites from tracking them. In reality it’s just an enhancement to features already present in IE 8 and it requires some user effort to take full advantage of the feature, yet the big announcement by Microsoft (which some argue is just posturing to gain an edge) certainly added fuel to the fire.

Essentially, here’s what this functionality means for you as a marketer: Want to be able to track customer data? Then earn their trust with top-notch messaging, content and experience. Then maybe they’ll let you in.

The one sure thing is that if you don’t make an effort to earn trust, you certainly won’t be let in. So my recommendation is to address the issue now.

  • Start improving the quality of your messaging so it’s personalized and relevance-based.
  • Engage customers in dialogue that builds trust.
  • Set high standards for process integrity and data security.
  • Explain to customers what you do with their data and why it helps you help them.

Those proactive steps will help you charge ahead and become an oasis for customers in the desert of online trust.

Can They Make Life for Marketers Any More Complicated?

Yeah, it’s a rhetorical question, I know. Of course they can, and they will. And by they, I mean spammers, legislators and lawyers. And let’s not forget lawyers. Oh, and did I also mention lawyers?

Ok, so we know spammers have pretty much ruined the pristine landscape of email for legitimate marketers. Now we all play by the CAN-SPAM rules…except, of course, the same spammers that led to the legislation. And the amount of spam only continues to make life hard for legitimate email marketers.

We know legislators like good, long looks at marketing activities. They pass laws like CAN-SPAM, Sarbanes-Oxley and other laws that impact businesses and marketers. Legislation impacts how we send email and faxes, what we say in them, and who we can send them to. It impacts how we manage customer and prospect data, how we interact with customers and prospects, and what information and actions we must provide to them and when. That’s a given to only get more complicated as new media and technology emerges.

And now, we get to the headliner: lawyers. In this particular case, a group of lawyers wants to make life for marketers a whole lot more complicated. To make a long story short, if this law firm wins their suit then simple Internet links would become a permission-based process. Are you kidding me?

Can you imagine having the time to get permission before linking to another website? I recognize the importance of dealing with privacy issues and legislation that dictates how we interacte with customer information. Yet marketers (and actually bloggers too) would be potentially cursed if the ill-meaning folks at Jones Day win this suit. As the article mentions, the logic behind the argument seems to be laced with holes that would seem to indicate it won’t charge ahead and succeed. Keep your fingers crossed.

And if it does, this article will be amended to include a new category: judges.