Reports on Parliament’s Behavioral Targeting Talk Miss the Point

A number of news reports from yesterday’s Parliamentary event on behavioral advertising appear to have missed the crux of the debate, and have, in my opinion, wrongfully implied that members of the panel were denouncing the practice of behaviorally targeted online advertising.

Speaking with ClickZ today, Robb Topolski, a software engineer and U.S. Federal Communications Commission panel member who sat on yesterday’s panel, said, “For the panel, the primary position was, ‘The middle of the Internet should not be used for an electronic monitoring point.’ Certainly there are some who will want to discuss the privacy and data storage implications of ‘traditional’ behavioral advertising as performed by Google or Revenue Science or many others. It’s an important, but different debate.”

Contrary to some reports, Tim Berners-Lee, for instance, did not express concerns surrounding behavioral targeting in general, but instead questioned the way in which data for this targeting is collected. During yesterday’s session, these questions applied specifically to ISP-level targeting offered by companies such as Phorm and NebuAd, and not to the publisher-led and ad network solutions currently on offer from firms such as Audience Science (formerly Revenue Science), Specific Media, and as of yesterday, Google.

In fact, Berners-Lee seemingly expressed support for the practice, providing that data was not intercepted by ISPs themselves. “I don’t have a problem with behavioral advertising; I think it’s an improvement, but there are so many ways to do it without ISPs snooping,” he said.

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