NEWS17 August 2011

‘Do not track’ measures pose risk to research, warns Esomar

Europe Privacy

NETHERLANDS— Industry association Esomar has warned that research could face unintended consequences from measures to introduce ‘do not track’ lists for online tracking if it doesn’t protect itself.

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes has called on the online ad industry to standardise practices around ‘do not track’ options by June 2012.

“This is something the market research sector should not ignore,” Esomar said in a statement, pointing out that Kroes’s challenge extends to all companies that use online tracking – not just advertisers.

Esomar said: “The problem for researchers is that their companies appear on these tracking protection lists and this blurs the distinction between the non-sales purpose of research and tracking, which aims to promote and sell.”

The market research industry needs to ensure that ‘do not track’ mechanisms make room for people who have consented to be tracked for research purposes, or to establish a ‘white list’ of research companies who are not engaged in marketing or selling, Esomar said.

“Researchers need to be very clear with research participants about the fact that tracking is taking place and the purpose of the tracking, as the TNS Gallup Webprofil case in Denmark in early 2011 demonstrated,” the association said. “Researchers should establish safeguards that minimise the risk of data security and privacy threats to the data subject.”

Abine, one of the companies whose tracking protection list can be incorporated into the Internet Explorer browser, says market research agencies need to be transparent and engage with organisations that offer privacy services.

Co-founder Rob Shavell told Research today: “The message we’d like to send to the market research industry is: tell us about what you’re doing and how you’re using tracking technology. That helps us classify [companies] into things users can opt into if they want to.

“We work hard not to be an ad blocker or disable commerce functions that users want, but we have to have the help of industry to be able to classify what they’re doing. If people don’t understand, they’re just going to block everything. What we do is categorise them into a bunch of categories, so if you want to use a website feature that involves some kind of tracking, you can do that and still block some of the behavioural ad networks that you might not want assembling activity-based profiles about you.”