"Do Not Track" presents some interesting obstacles for Internet giants that rely on Web advertising, with Google poised to be significantly impacted in the display ad market.
A quick refresher: Do Not Track will allow Internet users to add a Do Not Track header from browsers such as Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer. This will tell Websites not to track them across the Web.
Google agreed to support the header in Chrome by the end of the year, following Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple. There are, of course, caveats. The basic one is that there is still tracking going on.
Google's adoption of Do Not Track doesn't preclude cookies, small computer files online ad providers use to track users' travels around the Web, from existing in Chrome.
As I noted last week, cookies will not be used to build targeted ads, or those tailored to users based on users' past surfing and other online behavior.
However, the more "personal" users want their experience with Chrome or other browsers to be, the more info can be tracked about those users, according to Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising for Google.
"For example, if users have requested personalization (such as by signing up for particular services) or visit Websites that use "first-party" cookies to personalize the overall experience (for example, a news Website recommending articles to its readers, or a video site remembering your volume preferences), then browsers will not break that experience," Wojcicki wrote.
In other words, users will still be tracked and will see ads targeted to their behavioral tastes online.
The New York Times dug a little deeper to divine what exactly is going on, and while Google has the latitude Wojcicki mentioned, it could also find its display ad business a bit handicapped.
That's a big deal, because ad formats for mobile and display, which includes spending on online video, sponsorships, rich media and banner advertisements, are the next two truly big green fields for Google.
As it happens, third-party sites, or ad networks like DoubleClick that collect and use data to serve users online advertising tailored to the user are restricted in the data they can collect on users who select a Do Not Track option.
"[Google's] display advertising business, driven largely by its DoubleClick ad network, representing some $5 billion in revenue, is considered third party and could be affected."
What's interesting about this to me is that eMarketer has Google surpassing Facebook in display advertising in 2013, with the search giant grabbing nearly 20 percent of the market in 2013, compared with less than 18 percent for Facebook.
My question to you all is this: If Google implements Do Not Track as promised, and DoubleClick's ability to trade in user data to improve ads is impinged, what happens to Google's display ad business? Is YouTube enough to carry it alone?
Or does Do No Track set Facebook up to retain its market share lead? Just wondering.