In Search of the Middle Ground Between Privacy and Making Money

Shortly after filing my last column, news broke surrounding a proposed legislation that would require Web publishers and ad networks to publicly disclose when and how they collect data on users. The bill touches on what I consider to be the new “church and state” – that fine line between making a buck and consumer privacy issues.

As debate surrounding this proposed legislation continues to unfurl, I have to ask: what does this mean to me (given my role in the media world and how my discipline currently benefits from this level of granular data)?

However, when I take the stance of an online consumer, I’m tainted by the field in which I operate. I believe consumers benefit by adding a higher level of relevancy to an otherwise crowded space of untargeted advertising involving bad creative…you know who you are (it is much easier to make this statement being on the media side).

It appears I am not the only one who appreciates relevancy, as 88 percent of respondents in a March 2010 Q Interactive online advertising study stated they would like to see more targeted offers from brands they trust. Of course, “brands they trust” is a huge factor. Does a visit to a brand’s website indicate a level of trust? Certainly merely showing an interest in online travel content does not necessarily mean I trust a particular brand over another; however, is it shocking to see a travel ad after showing a preference in travel? It is merely sequence targeting off of content. While this appears to be a mild form of behavioral targeting, the bill, which is a version of one drafted in 2002, includes geo-targeting, e-commerce, and the backend platforms and technology we begin to rely on to optimize the performance of campaigns.

On the flip side, I do believe there needs to be privacy for consumers, as there are both front and backend offenders in the space.

We should consider the benefit Web users receive from the knowledge and information at their fingertips offered from the Internet, paying nothing to those content providers. All of this is made possible from advertising.

Let’s not bite the hand that feeds us. By this, I do not just mean in a monetary element, but from a marketing standpoint. The backend technology platforms offer a ton of insights from better segmented data on our current and potential target audiences to analytical insights on the behavioral differences of those interested in a brand and those who really convert. All in all, allowing for the accountability and analytical insights makes the digital space a fierce contender for advertising budgets.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is working to further implement a privacy policy through an icon in behaviorally-targeted ads to be displayed in the top right hand corner of banners. This begs the question: with the buzz privacy is receiving in the press, will consumers take action when it comes to personal preventative ways to avoid being tracked?

Cookies still play a big role in the way online behaviors are being tracked, according to Survey Scout Research. It found only 7 percent of Web users are actually deleting flash cookies on a regular basis. This statistic sounds very familiar to the comScore Natural Born Clickers study, which found that only 16 percent of Web users are actually clicking on online ads, and an even smaller 8 percent are moderate to heavy clickers. All of this attention from marketers and government regulation; yet not nearly as much when it comes to actual action from consumers.

Given the lack of consumer response in standard banner ads and with cookie deletion, I do not believe there will be an overwhelming number of voluntary opt outs. However, there has to be middle ground, giving a higher level of privacy to consumers while not significantly compromising the ability to successfully target, optimize, and measure advertising effectiveness.

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