Behavioral Targeting Laws – Track Me If You Can

The European Union (EU) is making final interpretations on its new behavioral targeting laws set to go into effect this May. Here in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Commerce (DOC) have both issued reports on the need to establish a “privacy framework” based around disclosure and simple choice. Most recently, President Obama asked Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights.” There are currently three bills in discussion calling for things like a do-not-track mechanism, and better disclosure to the consumer of what information is being collected about them, accessibility to that data, and the right to restrict or prevent the use of it.

On the self-regulation side, industry groups such as the DMA and IAB have offered the Advertising Option Icon program as a means for consumers to opt out of web tracking. Another group of online advertising companies wants to work with browsers to develop a technology solution to let consumers make choices about how they are being tracked online.

How all of this activity will actually play out is still unclear. Will the rules apply to first- or third-party tracking? Will they apply to cookies that are necessary to conduct business with your customer? Regardless, the solution is likely a combination of technology, self-regulation, and legislation. The common denominator between them lies in empowering individuals with the ability to opt out of being tracked as they travel along the Internet for their personal use.

What is becoming more apparent is that personal information belongs to the person. It is our privilege to know this information about our customers – not our right. Marketers need to embrace this paradigm shift. As an industry, we should be thinking about how to best leverage a do-not-track position rather than be afraid of it.

The more we know about our customers, the better we can accommodate their needs about the products and services we sell to them. Our customers want relevant information presented to them. In my opinion, they will likely allow you to track them to get this individually customized information. We just need to live up to our end of the bargain.

As an industry, we need to begin to adopt a new viewpoint about the data we collect and how it will be used, along with a new perspective on the do-not-track world we are about to work in. In a recent article on this subject, industry expert Ernan Ronan commented, “Instead of fighting Do-Not-Track efforts, companies should base more decisions on frequency of contact, contact preferences, and what content is being viewed.”

I have often touted the benefits of presenting customers with a strong value proposition and allowing them to control their marketing preferences. They will tell you a lot about themselves if they believe it is worth the value of your proposition. In doing so, the playing field changes from “we’ll track you if we can” to “yes, you can track me.”

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