Do Not Track, Kroes warns (M)ad men
Europe’s Digital Agenda champion Neelie Kroes will condemn efforts to allow companies to stalk users online.
In a breakfast meeting of the Centre for European Policy Studies this morning Kroes will say, “Privacy is a fundamental right; if your idea doesn’t work with that, it won’t work at all. Because people won’t use what they don’t trust. And they will stop using what they learn to distrust. If that happens, online businesses miss out on a huge opportunity of new and bigger markets.”
Kroes believes delegates at the Web standards setting body W3C are in danger of kowtowing to mainly US lobbyists who say their cookies will refuse to acknowledge default Do Not Track (DNT) messages from browsers.
The US-based Digital Advertising Alliance, which includes the Direct Marketing Association, said recently, “The DAA does not require companies to honour DNT signals fixed by the browser manufacturers and set by them in browsers.”
The DAA went on to complain about Microsoft setting DNT as the default in Internet Explorer v10. It said its members would not abide by such instructions, and such a default was not “an appropriate standard for providing consumer choice.”
UK users will disagree. They forced BT to abandon plans to use the Phorm ad-serving software after it was revealed to have conducted secret tests on users.
Kroes is worried that consumers will start shopping off-line or find ways to hide their online movements rather than allow anonymous companies to track them through cyberspace. This could jeopardise the development of a single e-commerce market in Europe, one of the European Commission’s primary goals.
In a December 2011 presentation Cisco said global retail e-commerce would be worth $1.4tr by 2015. The B2B market is already at least 50% bigger than retail, according to US Census figures quoted by Oracle earlier this year. But much of this is done on private networks with strong authentication with contractual obligations that create a climate of trust between parties.
The DNT standard is meant to stop firms from installing third party tracking cookies without users’ explicit permission. At present firms can do this without telling users what data they collect or what they use it for, nor are users easily able to discover and delete what companies may find out or predict about them.
This information is especially valuable to firms like Google and Facebook. They collate this data, compile a profile of users’ interests and therefore possible real world situation, and sell those profiles to advertisers who develop products (semi-)customised for individuals who fit that profile.
The DAA claims this stops you from receiving unwanted marketing messages; critics say this would end up restricting all the information you would get to see and the product and service choices presented to you.
The new provisions in Europe’s e-Privacy directive, the so-called “cookie rules”, require informed consent before information is stored or accessed on a user’s device, their computer or smartphone. This includes cookies for advertising or other tracking purposes.
“All providers need to respect and implement these rules,” Kroes will insist.