Eleven of the nation’s largest online publishers — including Yahoo, AOL, News Corp. and The New York Times Co — have explained to the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus why, try as they might, they can’t keep unwanted tracking software from following their readers around and targeting them with ads.
“[T]hey say that eliminating tracking is technically difficult and economically impractical, because the targeted advertisements supported by tracking allow the operators to offer free content,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “It is technically impossible for Yahoo! to be aware of all software or files that may be installed on a user’s computer when they visit our site,” wrote Anne Toth, Yahoo’s vice president of global policy and head of privacy.
Readers are becoming more aware of the elaborate snooping software that is being installed through these media outlets. Advertisers, meanwhile, are demanding the right to use increasingly sophisticated spy tools. Publishers are stuck with the choice of alienating consumers or losing revenue on ads.
The ad industry says it has come up with an icon that will alert readers when they are being tracked. This friendly logo will appear on any site where behavioral tracking software is present. Clicking on it takes users to a page where they can learn how to opt out.
But as The Wall Street Journal’s reporting has made clear, these kinds of tracking ads are pretty much everywhere. A ubiquitous logo is more likely to become invisible to users than act as a warning sign.