If you work in the digital world and have a pulse, chances are you've seen the recent commotion regarding the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed “Do Not Track” requirement for websites. On its surface the idea is not particularly bad -- consumers should have a reasonable mechanism to protect their identity online if they so choose, even if their reasons for wanting to “protect” said identity are not well understood.

Are We Taking Privacy too Far?

While many in the digital measurement space have loudly proclaimed that consumers already do have these protections, few are willing to defend the current implementation of P3P in modern web browsers as a “reasonable mechanism.”

The number one problem I have with the FTC proposal, and trust me, I have many, is that the conversation has become completely lopsided in favor of privacy advocates, fear mongers and other worry-warts.

Perhaps this is because of the clear bias flowing through one of the major sources on online tracking -- the Wall Street Journal -- or perhaps more simply because people really do fear what they do not understand (and if you read the comment streams, it is clear that people do not understand the Internet.)

3 Actions for Responsible Site Operators

Regardless of why the conversation has gone sideways, the action items for responsible site operators are clear -- we need to work towards the best and plan for the worst. To work towards the best I would propose that each of you reading this article do three things right away:

  1. Overhaul your privacy policy, either removing the legal mumbo-jumbo or providing a concise, clearly written and honest summary as an introduction;
  2. Make sure you know what you’re tracking, either by consulting with your web analytics and Information Technology staff or hiring an outside firm to come in and audit your data collection strategy
  3. Get ahead of the brewing storm, by developing messaging around how you value consumer privacy, how you use (and do not use) digitally collected data and what your analysis resources will and will not do.

Web Analytics Code of Ethics

On this last point I would be remiss to not point readers towards an effort that my partner John Lovett, and I kicked off under the auspices of the Web Analytics Association: the Web Analysts Code of Ethics.

This document, currently being finalized by Association resources, and available for review, is a community “self-policing” effort designed to encourage transparency, honesty and integrity on behalf of the people actually analyzing web collected data.

While it is a shame that politics and fear have the potential to set Internet advertising and marketing back a decade perhaps this was inevitable. At this point it is clear that a change is coming, the only question is what it will look like and who will be most affected.

I welcome your comments.