AOL has announced the first "do-not-track" list for Internet users:
Such lists will not reduce the number of ads that people see online, but they will prevent advertisers from using their online meanderings to deliver specific ad pitches to them.
Today the AOL division of Time Warner will announce a service of this type, which will be up and running by the end of the year. Other programs are likely to be articulated soon, as online advertisers prepare for a two-day forum on privacy to be held by the Federal Trade Commission.
AOL says it is setting up a new Web site that will link consumers directly to opt-out lists run by the largest advertising networks. The site's technology will ensure that people's preferences are not erased later.
There is a silver lining for marketers, however: the AOL site will try to persuade people that they should choose to share some personal data in order to get pitches for products they might like. Most Web sites, including AOL, already collect data about users to send them specific ads--but AOL is choosing to become more open about the practice and will run advertisements about it in coming months.
Consumers who have already seen some benefits from online tracking systems--in the form of movie recommendations from Netflix, perhaps, or product recommendations from Amazon--might warm to AOL's argument.