The Wall Street Journal has started a fascinating series, "What They Know," about how advertisers and companies that offer Internet services gather info on online consumer behavior. It's no secret that privacy is, sadly, either non-existent or very difficult to protect. Although many marketers are listening more closely to consumers' concerns about privacy, this series shows why the issue has become so controversial.
The first article explained the background and extent of the tracking, with a sidebar showing, in detail, how consumers can try to block tracking technology.
Today's article discusses how Microsoft could have turned privacy protection on in its Internet Explorer 8 software as the default setting (as product planners intended). Instead, thinking of the future advertising revenue to be gained by tracking users' behavior and serving up ads as appropriate, the firm ultimately released the software with protection set to "off" by default; users must turn on the privacy protection every time they start the software. Not a user-friendly decision, IMHO.
This is a must-read series for marketers that want a multidimensional view of online privacy. The stakes are high--and if marketers don't do more to disclose and to give customers easy ways to restrict some tracking, the backlash will get ugly.
You can get updates from the Twitter feed based on the series.