It’s Time to Advertise without Tracking Users

When Gator.com was alive, a big issue was whether they should track user activities. What Gator.com offered was a desktop application to help users fill in online forms and to offer coupons. As an exchange, users must allow Gator.com to track their clicks – every single clicks. Gator.com claimed they had the biggest database on MS SQLServer in the world. It was all the data Gator.com collected from the users.

Gator.com didn’t survive, but user tracking does so far. So, what is the big deal of user tracking? It is all because of data mining technology. This technology helps advertisers to find the right potential customers. It is so successful that click-through-rate could rise as high as 10%+ from 1%-. But it is critically depend on data. A huge data warehouse is a must. And that is why online businesses track user activities. Now you see why Google wants you to sign in to get more features. Now you see why supermarkets want you to carry their discount cards. It is all about the information of your activities.

But this is achieved by a price of user privacies. In many cases, users do not even know that their clicks are recorded somewhere else. Once they find out, they are angry and they want a change.

Privacy protection has been provided but was limited. For example, user can disable cookies and Javascript engine on their browser.

Few advertisers (e.g. Younexus) try to run business without tracking users but most do.

Real change is coming and it comes on a legal ground. On Dec. 1, 2010, FTC proposes “Do Not Track List” for the Web (see this too). This is similar to its “Do Not Call List” which is so far the most welcomed campaign that the federal government has. Once a user flags “Do Not Track” flag, it becomes illegal to track him/her. This, however, does not help if a user open a website based on a foreign country. Then, it comes another good news: Microsoft is building online tracking blocking feature into IE9. I predict that other browsers will follow. (What about Google’s Chrome? I don’t know.)

For online advertisers, it is time to advertise without tracking users. This sounds like going back to the old days when they put the same banners on all browsers. This is not what I mean. What I mean is that the advertiser must come up with new strategies to target potential customers without tracking their activities. With the current new technologies, there are great potentials. It’s going to be game changing revolution. Are you ready for the change?

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