I received a bit of shoot-the-messenger feedback from my recent three-part series on third-party tracking cookies, wherein I noted that several trends point toward a decrease in cookies over the next few years.
Most people appreciated what I was saying. However, a few whose jobs depend on advertising revenues tied to such cookies were taken aback. Indeed, there’s concern that movements resisting third-party tracking in your browser could be hurtful to the whole Internet business sector, especially start-ups.
My main point was just to raise awareness that such cookies won’t be so easy to promulgate in the future, whether your business likes it or not. Meanwhile, they can have legitimate purposes when used responsibly. This is not an all-or-nothing situation, and it actually matters where you as an individual decide to draw the line. In fact, if you don’t take five minutes to select which cookies you allow and which you don’t, you’ll be throwing away your vote in the competition of who gets to target ads to all of us.
So why don’t I just block BlueKai completely? For three very good reasons (and what I’m about to say would apply equally to eXelate, another major data management platform). First, if I turned off BlueKai flat out, I’d be penalizing them just the same as I do all the other companies who are not behaving themselves as nicely as BlueKai does. That would be just another way of throwing away my vote. If you want carbonated beverage makers to stop pushing their unhealthy drinks, it’s not enough to boycott all of their brands forever — you also have to spot the one or two companies trying to put out a healthier beverage, and go buy it.
BlueKai’s marketing rhetoric in this particular case, is not just rhetoric. They say that their data strategy “is all about transparency and choice,” and they are right. They are indeed giving complete transparency and choice, by letting you see and correct (or delete) each element of your tracking profile, whereas the vast majority of other third-party data companies are not providing this.
This is why going into your browser and deleting the others, but not deleting BlueKai, is a smart way to “vote with your dollar.” Oh, you won’t actually take a dollar out of your pocket. You’ll simply direct the dollars already being spent every day on targeting ads at you, to a data company that treats you with respect, while pulling dollars away from those who don’t.
I have a second reason for not deleting BlueKai cookies wholesale: I actually do want the ads I see to be more relevant to my interests, as long as I can control that profile myself, whenever I want. If I just kill all the tracking data, I am going to be shown much more random ads. But with a decent BlueKai profile, I’ll have better chances of being shown ads that I might actually care about.
The third reason is, since BlueKai is one of the few companies that obeys Do-Not-Track, I know that I can temporarily stop them from tracking me whenever I want. If am going to spend an hour researching something sensitive (maybe personal financial or medical topics), I can just activate the Do Not Track settings in my browser, and go browsing for a while; then when I am done, I can turn Do Not Track off again. This will signal to BlueKai to stop and then start it’s tracking again, respectively. Other companies, such as eXelate, MediaMind, Twitter, and Pinterest, will do this for me, too, as will the companies listed on Stanford Law School’s Do-Not-Track compliance list. (You’ll notice a lot of household names are *not* on the list, sadly.)
What I hope BlueKai, eXelate, Twitter, and other similar minded companies will do, is lobby Mozilla and other browser makers to have a middle-ground, rather than an all-or-nothing approach to third-party data gatherers. What I really want in my browser, is a setting that will block all and only those third-party data cookies that fail to offer a user-editable registry or that fail to obey Do-Not-Track. This would heavily encourage the vast majority of non-compliant third-party data companies to start following the positive example set by BlueKai and eXelate. Perhaps Mozilla, IE, or Safari (or some of their plug-in makers) will do that soon. I think the chances are good. The more of us that ask for it, the better!
@tmusgrove Great, level headed approach. Control should be in consumer's hands, not browsers or mega-companies . . .
— Mark Zagorski (@markzexelate) November 14, 2013
— BlueKai (@BlueKai) November 11, 2013