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Meet Customer Privacy Obligations Without Sacrificing Online Tracking

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A guest post by Angus Glover Wilson of TagMan.

Companies doing business online have an obligation to meet do-not-track and user privacy standards---whether they like it or not. And with do-not-track-style legislation pending in the United States and Europe, it’s likely that laws will eventually be passed that allow consumers to universally opt-out of online tracking by marketers and e-commerce sites. But more than that, it’s good for establishing customer loyalty. If customers know you take their privacy concerns seriously, they’re more likely to do business with you again and again.

Given this, not all hope is lost when it comes to tracking the online behavior of visitors who’ve requested to be opted out. While most online campaigns use tags that track visitor behavior and provide useful data for more targeted marketing and promotional offers, companies can (and should) implement policies to turn off tracking when users request it. Through use of tag management and other opt-out mechanisms, marketers can live up to the opt-out promises that various laws and regulations around the world require, while continuing to use tracking systems that do not require such opt-outs.

How can this best-of-both-worlds scenario be accomplished? Tags, cookies, data collection, and sharing are at the heart of the privacy problem. By leveraging a system that allows marketers to control all data-driven vendors in one place, they can ensure that best practices are met across the board.

A universal tag management system is one of the most effective ways to accomplish this, as it allows marketers to set parameters for how tracking tags are housed and activated. The main benefits of tag management systems are fairly well-known. They:



  • reduce the need for IT resources


  • speed up page loading time


  • improve overall site performance


However, more sophisticated tag management systems also help marketers, site owners, and ad agencies easily meet and comply with do-not-track and user privacy standards.

Additionally, it’s advantageous to use a vendor-agnostic platform, so that if vendors (retargeting, social widgets, data collection, tracking, affiliates, analytics, etc.) don’t properly adhere to policies you’ve outlined, it won’t matter. With such a system in place, online marketers are empowered to remove or replace errant vendors instantaneously with another vendor, with no interruption to day-to-day business.

Implementing tags through a proper tag management system provides marketers with the flexibility to live up to the tracking opt-out promises that various laws and regulations around the world require. The optimal approach enables site visitors to actively opt-out of being tracked by certain types of tags---and allows the marketer to determine which of its partner/vendor tags fall within the category of the type that the opt-out should be applied to.

For example, when a customer requests to be opted out of third-party behavioral targeting (which they may do via clicking an opt-out link, or simply by engaging the do-not-track setting in their browser), a company using the right tag management system can cease to deliver those particular tags to opted out visitors, but still continue serving tags for their first-party site analytics system.

There are, of course, many other opt-out systems available to consumers. What these systems have in common is that they transmit the opt-out request to the third-party tracking company, and it is then up to that tracking company to comply with the opt-out. There are several reputable companies that do comply in this way, but there are no guarantees that they will all correctly recognize the user’s opt-out request. By putting control directly in the hands of the company website owner, whose ultimate responsibility it is to respect the user’s opt-out, the tag management system provides a "belt and suspenders" approach to this critical process.

The online marketing industry’s self-regulation efforts in this area are organized under an entity called the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA ). Examples of companies offering opt-out systems include Evidon, TRUSTe, and DoubleVerify, each of which can provide advertisers with the "blue arrow" ad choices icon to display in their online advertising and on their website. Users can click on the arrow to set their opt-outs from all the tracking companies that the advertiser is using to target their advertising.

In addition to pending international legislation, there are several online industry self-regulation best practice compliance initiatives occurring. While no one can say for certain exactly what new data tracking laws and mechanisms will emerge, it’s more than safe to assume that legislation will be introduced that allows consumers to universally opt-out of tracking by marketers and e-commerce sites.

By using a universal tag management system that supports do-not-track policy enforcement, brand marketers have full control to set parameters that meet customer privacy demands while still having access to some behavioral information that isn’t generated by systems from which users opt out. The alternative is to approach opt-out tags one technology at a time---a less efficient, and quite possibly less compliant process.

Angus Glover Wilson is chief privacy officer and VP of Operations for TagMan. He can be reached at angus.gw@tagman.com.


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Comments

  • by John Hoy Fri Nov 2, 2012 via blog

    With Google Chrome and Microsoft Internet Explorer both adding do not track implementations you would think that online retailers would build their sites to enable shopping by users that block tracking analytics.
    Walmart.com will not let a shopper "Proceed to Checkout" if they block Omniture (Adobe Digital Marketing). Clicking on "Proceed to Checkout" just doesn't do anything.
    Target.com immediately opens a popup window when the site window opens that states if you want to use their site you must enable cookies when really all that is happening is that RichRelevance tracking is being blocked.
    Both of these retailers require customers to allow tracking if you want to shop their site. It's not right that these websites are designed in such a way that the shopping experience is interrupted if I don't want to be tracked. Maybe they will wake up if and when more of us refuse to shop their site until they stop this nonsense.

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