With the development of Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft is introducing a new privacy feature, “Tracking Protection,” to help consumers be in control of potential online tracking as they move around the Web.
According to Microsoft, IE 9, which is in beta, users are able to create a “tracking list” and choose which marketers can or cannot watch their online habits.
But is Tracking Protection practical for the IE 9 user, or a warning message sent by Microsoft to marketers with hopes they will respect consumers’ privacy?
Amy Africa, Chief Imagination Officer at ecommerce consultancy Eight by Eight Marketing, says the theory is good, but the practice is not.
Africa says consumers don’t mind being tracked if they get something in return. Case in point: consumers get their loyalty cards scanned at grocery stores to get a discount.
“I think consumers are aware that everything is tracked, but they are willing to trade in a teensy bit of their information for savings or a discount,” Africa says. “When you offer the choice to get a discount and be tracked or get nothing and not be tracked, there’s no doubt in my mind that the majority of folks are going to take the tracking.”
Africa adds that consumers using Tracking Protection are going to run into the same problem as if they simply decided not to accept cookies. Say you put 20 books in your cart at Amazon, but don’t check out. If you choose to not have Amazon track you, you’re going to log back onto Amazon and have an empty cart.
“I think this is going to be a bit like pop-ups,” Africa says. “Everyone says they hate them, everyone says they block them, and (pop-ups) are still incredibly successful.”
Plus, Africa says, not every consumer uses Internet Explorer, and not every IE user is going to activate Tracking Protection, so consumers may still be vulnerable.
Tom Funk, vice president of ecommerce consultancy Timberline Interactive, doesn’t think having users create specific “Tracking Protection Lists” on a site-by-site basis in IE won’t achieve high adoption.
Still, merchants need to demonstrate more respect for privacy, and provide efficiencies and useful site features in exchange for the cookies they plant on a user’s machine. A lot of new ad-driven tactics are giving merchants a bad reputation and could spur Congress to legislate an online version of Do Not Call, Funk says.
“Some sneaky sites are now using ‘Flash cookies,’ which are much harder to delete than traditional cookies,” Funk says. “Big ad networks are fingerprinting computers and mobile devices based on unique combination of settings and operating software, so they don’t even need to depend on cookies to know who you are. Stories like that scare and anger the average consumer.”