Yahoo Hops on the Do-Not-Track Train

Yahoo has been at work developing a header solution that will implement Do Not Track compliance across its global network by early this summer. The news follows the final report released by the Federal Trade Commission this week that, among other points, calls on companies to make privacy options simpler and more transparent to consumers.

Yahoo is hardly the first entity to show its support of Do Not Track with tangible action. In its final report, the FTC praised browser providers that have developed tools over the past year that allow consumers to limit the data collected about them. It also pointed to the Digital Advertising Alliance, which has developed its own icon-based system and has promised to honor the browser tools.

“The Commission will work with these groups to complete implementation of an easy-to-use, persistent, and effective Do Not Track system,” the report says.

Yahoo dates the development of its DNT header solution, which it says is in accordance with the Digital Advertising Alliance’s principles, back to last year. It says that the site-wide DNT tool will make it easy for consumers to express their ad-targeting preferences to Yahoo.

Crack in the Dam

Expect to see more such announcements, Gerry Corbett, chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, told the E-Commerce Times.”The crack in the dam has occurred now, and my guess is that other companies will fall into place, especially with Yahoo’s announcement.”

Yahoo was smart, though, to be among the first out of the gate with its announcement after the FTC report, he added. “The company has significant challenges ahead for them, and this was a good way for it to create a positive impression about the organization.”

The general public wants to see this kind of responsiveness to this issue, Corbett said. “Yahoo’s move is going to be just the tip of the iceberg.”

Avoiding Regulation

More firms will follow suit — if only for self-preservation, said Kevin Taylor, technology law expert and attorney at Schnader Harrison.

“If other Web search engine firms follow suit, the FTC probably won’t regulate in this area,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

There are a number of initiatives pending in the U.S. Congress, but it is difficult to say when or if they will ever gain momentum.

However, the ambitions of the Obama administration and its agencies are starkly clear, noted Darren R. Hayes, program chair and lecturer at Pace University. “The FTC has taken on the Google behemoth with extensive investigations, followed up by hefty fines, with Google Buzz being one of the most prolific reprimands,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“The latest investigation of Google’s circumvention of Safari’s privacy protections shows that the FTC has no time for those who wish to diminish the privacy rights of online consumers,” Hayes said.

Pressure From the EU

The European Union is also a force to consider.

“The EU has already issued an ultimatum to Web companies to develop an effective Do Not Track technology by mid-2012 or face an EU-mandated solution,” Hayes said.

Who Gets Hurt

Clearly, as DNT takes off, digital marketers — and the companies that make money off them, such as Google, Facebook, and yes, Yahoo — will feel the pinch.

“This change to offer consumers browsing the Web a ‘Do Not Track’ option has the potential to hurt advertisers, of course,” Taylor said.

Yet people who opt out of receiving targeted offers probably aren’t going to be influenced by digital ads or emailed promotions in the first place, he added.

Much depends on how many consumers will actually use the Do Not Track tools, and that is hard to gauge at this point, Hayes said.

“My guess is that only a minority of consumers are using the technology — and until Congress acts on the issue, the FTC will continue to be a lone cause fighting for the privacy rights of the consumer.”

An FTC spokesperson was not immediately available to provide further details. Yahoo did not respond to our request for further details.

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