As ad networks are being built and promise marketers the ability to reach desired audiences at exactly the right time with their digital messages, there’s growing contention about consumer privacy. The FTC has been working with the World Wide Web Consortium (w3C) to agree on industry standards. But not everyone is playing by the same set of rules, a development which has marketers very concerned.

Until now, most consumers had to interact with their browsers to manually turn on the do-not-track feature. Microsoft, sensing an opportunity to increase its share of the browser market, is planning to release the next version of its browser, Internet Explorer 10, with the do-not-track feature set as default. Knowing that most consumers do not bother to adjust browser settings, the Association of National Advertisers and several large digital marketers are already complaining that Microsoft’s move means nearly half, 43%, of the browser market could be affected. Advertisers would be limited in the data they can collect from these users.

Writing for the New York Times, Natasha Singer rightly calls this move a threat to the barter system that has been the basis for access to free content on the Web. In exchange for free entertainment and information, consumers have gradually been accepting the idea of giving up their data to marketers. The increasingly contentious privacy battle has the attention of key legislators who may move to increase regulation in the industry.

But the Digital Advertising Alliance notes it is already self-regulating by taking the signals it receives from browsers set to do-not-track into account. Speaking for that group, as well as the Interactive Advertising Bureau,  Mike Zaneis is asking all interested parties to give the current system a chance to work. This means that all adverters and ad networks should honor consumer requests. Failing to do so could stir more controversy and generate  so much privacy protection zeitgeist that the basic business model of the Internet would have to be rethought.

[Sources: Singer, Natasha. Do Not Track? Advertiser say ‘Don’t Tread on Us’. Nytimes.com. 14 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2012; Gruenwald, Juliana, Do-Not-Track Proposal Headed Off Track. Nationaljournal.com. 9 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2012]