More Privacy for Behavioral Targeting?

Last year, a member of my company’s media team purchased self-serve ads on Facebook and was able to send Valentine’s Day wishes to his girlfriend on the site. How? There are only so many 23-year-old females in Atlanta who went to the University of Georgia, work at company XYZ, and enjoy biking, traveling, music, etc. Through the wonders of social media and her previously established profile, complete with personal information and preferences, our employee was able to target her with zero waste at a cost efficient CPC (define).

Today, the sophistication of digital platforms makes it fairly simple to track users based on what they are reading, shopping for, clicking on, or even filling out in their profiles. All of this can be done through legal means, ensuring no personally identifiable information is passed through; advertisers are simply targeting users based on their behavior and/or (perhaps more importantly) information they choose to make public.

Behavioral targeting, specific to the collection of online data from a particular computer or device regarding Web viewing behaviors, has proponents creating increasingly more parameters and restrictions around the FTC’s established Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising. Through support by the AAAA, BBB, IAB, DMA, and ANA, behavioral targeting receives vast attention around policy, standards, and legality. It seems there is less movement to mirror the same for social media.

At a time when marketers and advertisers are devouring every bit of information about how to quickly position their brands online to connect with consumers, it is often overlooked as to how the platforms are using the information consumers are offering. From engagements to pregnancy to divorce, it appears the easiest way to let your closest 200 friends know is via social networks.

Facebook is in the process of revising its privacy policy to be announced at the next developer’s conference, f8. Among the changes is the ability to share your personal information with “pre-approved” Web sites. This could include having these “pre-approved” Web sites know you, your birthday, your hometown, and your friends, without ever having given the site access to your data. Essentially, everything available within your “Everyone” setting can make its way from your page to these third parties for their additional targeted marketing offers.

Facebook is not the only culprit; however, with its continued unique user growth, it is one of the highest-reaching properties on the Web. That, in turn, makes it a rich resource as far as having a wealth of personally identifiable information available to share. Rapleaf, for example, uses automated search on the Web for publically available information about online users, including social network profiles, user reviews, blog posts, and even friend/follower profiles, in order to better serve marketing messages.

This brings me back to the topic at hand. Behavioral targeting is often scrutinized by consumers and government legislation for the tracking of personally unidentifiable information, currently taking place to better target advertising to the right user at the right time. However, these same consumers are also offering up their own personal information all around the Web for marketers to create their digital footprint by openly displaying who they are, what they do, their shopping habits, preferences, friends, etc. If there is such a concern over privacy, then consumers need to be their own personal advocates.

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