Follow-up on Microsoft DNT
As a heat wave strangles the Northeast, advertisers, publishers, and content creators are becoming increasingly worried about "scorched earth" policies that threaten to disrupt and dismantle the Internet ecosystem.
We're talking, of course, about Microsoft's decision to make Do Not Track (DNT) functionality the default setting in version 10 of its Internet Explorer (IE) browser. Microsoft's surprising move against tracking cookies could be a blow to the many companies that rely on effective ads to create the things people love on the Internet.
Some have speculated that Microsoft's decision is a "scorched earth" approach to competing with Google, whose bottom line is buoyed by the great success of AdSense, AdMeld and DoubleClick. Others ague that Microsoft's real goal is to find a way to distinguish IE from the competitors.
The former theory makes a certain amount of sense; there is perhaps no better way for Microsoft to hurt Google than by undermining the core infrastructure of online advertising. The latter theory is being supported by reports that Microsoft's browser team started pushing for the DNT default back in 2008, suggesting that this commitment to privacy was a long time coming.
But while it's likely that members of Microsoft's browser team have long supported DNT -- regardless of its ramifications on the rest of the Internet -- it's unlikely that Microsoft really cares about privacy above all else.
Microsoft, after all, recently filed patents for tracking systems that would detect a user's emotions -- via text language and facial expressions in video conversations -- in order to match online advertising to moods.
"Such technology would see weight-loss ads matched with unhappy people (who are more likely to want to change their lifestyle) and electronic ads with happy people (who are more likely to spend)."
"Degrees of emotion can vary — a user can be 'very angry' or 'slightly angry' — as well as the duration of the mood. Advertisers can target people 'happy for one hour' or 'happy for 24 hours.'"
Anonymously tracking users' browsing history to serve better-targeted ads is one thing; infiltrating their video conversations and targeting their emotional states is something quite different.
It's also worth remembering that when Netscape introduced cookies in 1994, Microsoft immediately followed suit. In a 2001 article in The New York Times, one Microsoft executive explained the company's embrace of cookies: "I don't think anyone ever thought that cookies were anything that could be excluded in the browser and have that browser become a success in the marketplace," he said.
In other words, whatever happens with IE in the months ahead, Microsoft has a lot of explaining to do.