Do Not Track – A Sign of the Times

On the heels of the FCC considering a “Do Not Track” list, similar to the “Do Not Call” list, allowing people on the internet to opt-out of being tracked by web sites and online marketers, (not to mention the European Union’s Do Not Track legislation), now both Firefox and Chrome have announced that they will add “Do Not Track” features.

It seems everywhere we turn, government agencies and companies want to block or inhibit the work that we do as web analysts. People even decry us as spys and invaders of privacy.

To that end, the community of web analysts have rallied behind Eric Peterson and the Web Analytics Association by pledging to follow the Web Analytics Code of Ethics. This is, in part, an attempt by our community to calm the fears of the general public that are being led to fear what we do by a few, but very vocal, naysayers, without truly understanding both sides of the issue.

Take my uncle for example – he very much fears having people “spy” on him, afraid that the internet is filled with hackers and other ne’er-do-wells around every corner. While it is true there are such folks out there, the fact of the matter is not a single one of them is operating based on web analytics data. They have other much more nefarious means of getting what they want out of your computer.

The vast majority of web analytics tools do not even allow users to track individuals at all (despite some HiPPOs dearly wishing they could). Even the ones that do, don’t track individual people, but individual devices (via their IP address). If a family of 5 all use the same computer, or a single person accesses a site from 5 different web-enabled devices, we wouldn’t know. We’d only know that in the first case a single IP address was visiting, while in the 2nd case 5 different IP addresses were visiting. That still won’t tell us about Suzie Smith’s career, background or family history (unless of course she chooses to share that information on a social media site – but that’s a completely different topic).

How do you feel about the FCC proposal, or the new “Do Not Track” browser features? How do you feel the government legislations (proposed or in effect) for either opting-out of being tracked, or requiring users to opt-in before they can be tracked? How will this affect the web analytics industry? Will we be forced to work with the age-old “sample size” of polls and surveys of populations, rather than looking at the entire population/traffic of a web site? Please chime in!

3 thoughts on “Do Not Track – A Sign of the Times

  1. Anyone that wants to know IP addresses can track do so with log files. The CNN article displays a clear misunderstanding of the technologies at play and fails to call Mozilla out for for passing the buck. There is no chicken and egg here. Either browsers need to code to protect certain data or they need to stop lying in the public forum.

    While you are not wrong about IP/Human duplication and multiplication you are wrong about it being anywhere near protection. Every device that you use, particularly mobile devices, create a hardware footprint that is identifiable. Talk with people that have to meet HIPAA standards with sufficient touch points any individual can be identified with probable certainty, just from the all of the data you have about the people that aren’t that individual.

    Don’t track legislation is lipstick on the pig. What needs to be defined is what Personally Identifiable Information means in the digital age and require that browsers default to ZERO transmission of PII. I have rewritten the Code of Ethics to expect a higher bar for accountability and evangelism of ethic technologies.


    1. Carlos – I agree it’s not necessarily “protection” but any ethical web analyst will not go down that road to see exactly who visited their site (not to mention, I don’t see how knowing the details of a single visitor’s life is really going to improve your marketing or make improvements to your web site).

      Yes I know there are unethical folks out there who would do nefarious things with this information. My point is that it’s not fair that the entire industry is viewed by some folks as a group of ne’er-do-wells. Most of us strive to be ethical.


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