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Do Not Track: The great ad-tracking debate

We look at both sides of the story

To track or not to track: Two editors go toe-to-toe in the debate over web advertisers' right to track online browsing behaviour.

2. Advertising lets people make money from the internet
You can consume as much audio, video, and text as you want for the cost of the small coffee that gets you a spot at Starbucks. Never mind that it costs money for someone to record the audio or produce the video or write the words, and that it costs someone else money to bring it to you faster than you can physically listen/watch/read it - you can have whatever you want immediately delivered to you, free of charge. That is the promise of the internet, and it's a promise sustained almost entirely by advertising. Goodwill alone won't power your internet radio - the service needs money to pay the piper, which means that it needs to park a few ads there instead.

As a writer, I believe this is important, because it's how I make my living. Unless you, dear reader, are a PC Advisor magazine subscriber, the only way I can afford to keep writing is to show you ads while you read this - and the same goes for most of your favourite bloggers, YouTube channels, app developers, and so on. That's pretty cool, because it means that all kinds of creative types can focus on doing interesting things without worrying too much about how to make money from it. Of course, even if Do Not Track is implemented, the internet will still have advertisements. And that leads me to my third point.

3. I'd rather have better ads than crappy ads
The days of an ad-free internet are over. Although I'd love to live in a magical world where the web never depended on advertising revenue but was just as awesome as it is currently, I don't think that setup is feasible (unless you use AdBlock, in which case this whole conversation is kind of pointless).

The difference with no behavioural tracking isn't that you won't see ads at all - it's that the ads won't be targeted to your online actions. Instead, you'll be inundated with advertisements that range from completely uninteresting pitches (overseas Viagra suppliers) to borderline-insulting assumptions based on your demographic (tacky engagement-ring ads on Facebook). Basically, the ads will suck. You won't be interested in them, which means the advertiser won't make as much money off them, and as a result the website will have to find new and creative ways to put more ads on the page.

If I have to put up with ads, they might as well be good ads. If I knew that every time I opened a new web page I'd encounter good-quality ads, well, I might not even be able to make it past the first few lines without opening my wallet and buying something.

That doesn't mean I'm against all advertising regulation. I'm glad I don't get telemarketers calling me during dinner these days. But Do Not Track isn't about making advertising less intrusive or annoying, it's mostly about protecting data that, to me, isn't especially important - and it's about condemning me to an internet where crappy ads reign supreme.

NEXT PAGE: Tom Spring tell us why tracking is bad

  1. We look at both sides of the story
  2. More on why not tracking is not a big deal
  3. Tom Spring tell us why tracking is bad
  4. I'm not paranoid - the threat is real
  5. Mythbusting

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