Having been in the digital media planning and buying business for many years, I’ve seen some pretty incredible targeting capabilities. I remember the first time I heard about behavioral and re-targeting — the fact that you could attach a “cookie” to a user’s computer and literally have your advertisements follow them as they surf the good ol’ WWW. It was innovative. It was useful. It was exciting.
And it seemed just a little creepy.
My family and friends who have had the luxury of hearing me explain technologies that allow digital marketers to target so specifically have had differing opinions. I’ve heard things like, “It’s a complete privacy violation and makes me not want to use the Internet!” Conversely, I’ve heard, “Does that mean [advertisers] will actually show me ads I want to see?” I find both reactions interesting — one person who is concerned about the Big Brother-ness and the other considering what benefit he would get from it. For consumers who aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of our industry, I understand how unsettling the implications of tracking technologies are. However, it begs the question of whether or not it is a true privacy violation if the technologies aren’t necessarily tying your name and specific identification (birth date, social security number, etc.) to your Internet user behavior.
A recent Ad Age article brought industry attention to a newly formed coalition of online advertising professionals, called the Digital Advertising Alliance. They’ve partnered with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in, what I consider to be, a gesture of good faith for the general public. Other members of this alliance, as I’m sure you could’ve guessed, are the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), American Advertising Federation (AdFed) and Direct Marketing Association (DMA).
The group aims to avoid the very real threat of federal legislation clamping down on user privacy regulations through a form of self-regulation. Further pressures may prohibit certain forms of digital targeting altogether — an unpleasant thought for the multi-billion dollar digital advertising industry.
One initiative the DAA has recommended is a Do Not Track list, akin to the telemarketing world’s Do Not Call list. Basically, it’s a step toward self-regulation, in an effort to defray any accusation that they are taking public privacy concerns lightly.
While the FTC considers it a step in the right direction, whether the FTC will jump on board and continue to let the group self-regulate remains to be seen.
[Post contributed by Emily Carroll]