Americans have a strong aversion to being tracked online, reports The New York Times, yet most aren’t even aware of an across-the-board opt-out function being proposed by the FTC. (Various ways to “opt out” of being tracked are already offered on a case-by-case basis through individual browsers. However, since there’s no law requiring sites to comply with user preferences, they can continue to track Web activity, anyway.) If the FTC’s measure passes, it could limit advertisers’ ability to collect data for targeted advertising.
While individuals are generally for such a mandate — once they learn about it — and data mining companies are against it, the proposal sheds light on the real elephant in the room. Online ads, tailored or not, often go totally ignored. Eighty-five percent of respondents in a survey conducted by the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology said they either never or hardly ever clicked on an online ad. Well, that’s a terrible rate — what’s the point?
And surely the number would get even worse without tailored advertising. We don’t necessarily advocate data mining, but it’ll certainly be curious to see what happens to the online ad industry, and the cost of such ads, if substantial limits are placed on tracking Web users’ activity. While it might come as a surprise in 2012, most consumers are still actively concerned about online fraud. In conjunction with the findings of the Berkeley study, it seems this wariness extends to worry over being monitored. And if that’s the broad public attitude, the FTC’s proposal, if established, could substantially re-shape online advertising as we know it.