Watching those watching us?

Posted on: July 5, 2009


The powerful lure of behavioural ad targeting

Earlier this year at a large digital marketers event I attended, hosted by an unnamable representative of an organisation I shouldn’t reveal, the delegates around my roundtable were wowed by the potential of behaviourial targeting. Everyone furiously scribbled notes and some complained about their agency not pushing their efforts towards this bleeding edge opportunity.

What privacy issues?

I dared to ask the obvious question i.e. how the issue of privacy and the trade off  between wanting to see relevant ads and collecting behavioural data interplay. There were some confused looks; it seemed I’d dropped a clanger. To fill the silence I went on to explain why people might object and the recent attention given to Phorm in the EU. Again, no-one around the table, even the ‘expert’ from the agency specialising in behavioural technologies, had much to say on it.

The social web means more and more of who we are is being catalogued, stored and exploited for our benefit and for those who might profit from our digital incarnations. I came away feeling that if those actually implementing these technologies were not considering the privacy and security implications, what hope for users? I pondered the vast gap between the pace of this exciting new development for advertisers and their ambivalence towards the associated social and legal implications.

Are large brands now moving to narrow this gap?

Big names back new US regulation

The guidelines, backed by Google, Microsoft, Disney, Verizon, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Interactive Advertising Bureau, aim to make behavioural targeting more transparent, and to ensure data that is collected is stored securely.

Disney, Coke and Microsoft back behavioural targeting guidelines

It’s good news that such large companies in the US are participating in a process to start regulating  behavioural ad targeting.

The pedagogy of the netizen

The question is how far users will have a say, and whether they will have enough information available to make informed choices about using websites, web services and Internet Service Providers who engage in it. Furthermore, will this new regulation provide a stick or carrot big enough for organisations to engage in the public education available for users to make informed choices? If not, governments should take on this responsibility.

eye picture by smilingdorothy22


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