Over the last two decades, the web has transformed business as we know it. However, “Do Not Track” legislation seeks to restrict technology that may violate web user privacy. Some small-business owners fear that this legislation will bode ill for web sales.
On popular consumer B2C portals like Amazon.com, some customers may not need to sign on to get a personalized shopping experience. The site remembers the customer’s account information from previous visits. Shopping carts keep a list of items buyers selected. Some shoppers are shocked to see spot-on “suggestions” for alternative items similar to the ones they recently viewed. With intelligent suggestion technology, the customer is more likely to find and buy what they seek.
For small and mid-sized businesses, these web features mean more money in the bank and a chance to beat out bigger competitors on niche markets.
Cookies and Tracking
A website’s ability to remember which shopper came to visit, the shopping cart items, and the site’s ability to make “suggestions” are all parts of an unseen information exchange between the seller’s website and the buyer’s computer. One key feature that makes this possible are cookies stored in the buyer’s web browser.
As shoppers cruise through an online store, information about their viewing history, their browsing history, and the items they have looked at reside in the cookie. Certain business site operators download and analyze cookie information to help determine trends in buying, and to capture shopper demographics.
Tracking: An Infringement on Personal Privacy?
While the benefits of this technology are obvious for ethical e-commerce vendors, there is equal opportunity for its abuse by others. Unscrupulous website operators may capture and sell web shopper information to people who will later use that information for spamming and other illegal activities.
“Do Not Track” Legislation
Because there are few laws governing information gathering, web privacy advocates are beginning to seek “Do Not Track” restrictions to the harvesting of web user information.
Inc. Magazine cites NetChoice Executive Director Steve DelBianco: “Do Not Track will run small business off the track.” In the same report, a small business owner claims that Do Not Track restrictions “…could lop our revenue in half.”
The same intelligent technology that “suggests” items for sale also drives suggestions for the kind of advertisement a user may see. Shoppers may actually welcome advertisements related to the their interests and may even buy something from those ads. However, “Do Not Track” legislation may force website administrators to make up their loss through the use of pop-up banners, videos.
Small to mid-size business owners who serve also as administrators for their own websites fear this may drive web users away. By restricting cookie tracking, web technologists also will have to worry whether their advertisements will become more generic, are likewise less targeted, and less relevant to shoppers. After investing so much time and money into developing smart suggestion features, the technology itself may become worthless.
While legislators have not filed formal documents yet, discussion on “Do Not Track” is already heating up on Capitol Hill. Time will tell if and how this proposed law shakes out for web tech and mid-size business owners.