Online privacy is a sore topic for many consumers – no one likes to be spied on without their knowledge, or have their personal data stored by anonymous companies. And the growing use of in-depth data trackers — programs that companies use to determine your personal information the moment you click onto their site — has made made many people very nervous.
And for good reason: Often, clicking on a web site allows retailers to deduce a stunning amount of information about you, including your age, income, hobbies, and even your approximate credit score. Tracking your clicks helps retailers to understand your online habits, so they can know what products to try and sell you (and even, in some cases, what to charge you for them).
As such, in an effort to give consumers more choices when it comes to monitoring, the Council of Better Business Bureaus is collaborating with seven of the nation’s largest media and marketing associations – including the Association of National Advertisers — to launch a application in the form of a clickable icon that will tell you when data is being collected about you.
The purpose of this new site – called the very fancy-sounding Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising – is to inform everyone who uses the internet (which is almost everyone) which retailers are using online tracking programs to store your data. Within the next few weeks, you’ll start seeing an “Advertising Option” icon pop up on the upper right-hand corner of a company’s advertisement.
Granted, this icon won’t be on every data-mining ad — it will be placed only on the ads of sites that register via the program’s web site. Clicking on the icon links to a separate page allowing shoppers to accept or refuse to have their information saved for company research purposes.
Web sites from Stanley Steemer to Facebook have been using ad tracking for years, but as data gathering programs get more and more sophisticated, an opt-out has become necessary for any semblance of privacy online.
But while the option of an opt-out is helpful, if too many people surfing the web say “no, thank you” to having their data tracked, retailers might lose out as a result — they may not be able to cater to consumers as specifically.
As of yet, there are no clear incentives for online retailers to add the icon to their ads — but that could change if consumers grow to like and depend on the opt-out option. If you are a store with no opt-out button while all your competitors have one, will you lose sales as a result?
Then again, there’s also the possibility that by not letting people opt out (since, let’s be honest, not everyone will by any means) you are safeguarding your access to valuable data about your consumers. So for retailers, right now it m.ay be a pretty clear choice.