Friday, June 15, 2007

More on Behavioral Targeting

Shortly after my last piece on behavioral targeting for online advertising came out, the folks at MediaPost published three more enlightening articles on the topic. First was What's Next in Ad Targeting? from Dave Morgan of behavioral targeting advertising network Tacoda. Morgan makes three key points about targeted online advertising: 1) "you have to know something about a lot of different consumers and their actions within digital media and marketing environments. You need to understand the wisdom of the crowds;" 2) "for consumers that you want to target, you have to know a certain amount about their actual actions within media and marketing environments. You need some way to connect them to the crowds if you want to predict what they are likely to do;" and 3) "you need to have an understanding of what types of commercial messaging are likely to create the desired results."

He closes by writing ""What could slow this down? Certainly issues like privacy and over-hype could hurt, but ultimately, if predictive targeting of online advertising can improve consumers' experiences and give them ads that they want and need, it will happen, and sooner rather than later." But that was the point I made in my post: accurate prediction is possible with relatively limited personal information—and collecting additional information beyond that point is not only an unwarranted invasion of privacy, but a complete waste of time.

Next came Privacy Groups Warn: Google’s Watching Us From Every Angle from Wendy Davis. Davis points out that with "Google Maps, Toolbar, Blogger, Okrut, Gmail, and Checkout, among other services...there's no question that Google has the raw data it needs to construct more detailed profiles of individual users than has ever been done before" to contend "Google needs to cough up a more detailed plan for protecting users' privacy."

While I completely agree, I'm not a fan of lawyers or more regulation of the Internet, so I hope Google yields to market pressure. I am a fan of technology solutions to technology problems; I'm confident that there's someone out there smart and creative enough to produce an easy plug-in utility users could install to block the sending of personal information to Google (or anyone else trying to unreasonably invade user privacy).

Finally, there was Democratizing BT from Steve Smith. In this interview, Jeff Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy states that "I grew increasingly alarmed about the rapid growth of interactive advertising’s capabilities, in particular BT where increasing numbers of data sets about users were being incorporated. And then in the last year and a half [there’s] the emergence of retargeting, which now permits marketers to literally shadow individual users from site to site...We filed a complaint saying in essence that the entire field of online advertising as it related to data collection, principally BT, was unfair and deceptive. The good news is that as a result of our complaint, the FTC opened up the investigation so they looked at online profiling...They (BT and other online tracking services) can’t just track people and get [them] to engage in a variety of behaviors without fully informing them that this is going on—and getting complete permission in advance to do so...I do think the companies are being disingenuous here, because they aren't being candid [with users] about what they are really doing. The public is not aware—and once informed, I think sufficient numbers are suitably horrified."

Is that what online advertisers really want to be doing—"horrifying" potential customers? The answer has to be "no," particularly when collecting such information isn't even helpful. Advertisers should focus on using only the information they really need for effective prediction. And as for the likes of Google and BT, they'd be best served by telling users precisely what personal information they are collecting, and collecting no more information than is reasonably justified.


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