It’s too disquieting a time in the U.S. to dismiss what a lobbyist for the Interactive Advertising Bureau said as merely silly. The IAB lobbyist is quoted in today’s Washington Post saying: “If Congress required ‘opt in’ today, Congress would be back in tomorrow writing an Internet bailout bill. Every advertising platform and business model would be put at risk.” [reg. required]
Why is the IAB afraid of honest consumer disclosure and consumer control? If online ad leaders can’t imagine a world where the industry still makes lots of money–while simultaneously respecting consumer privacy–perhaps they should choose another profession (say investment banking!).
Seriously, online ad leaders need to acknowledge that reasonable federal rules are required that safeguard consumers (with meaningful policies especially protecting children and adolescents, as well as adult financial, health, and political data). The industry doesn’t need a bail-out. But its leaders should `opt-in’ to a responsible position for online consumer privacy protection.
NPR’s On the Media co-host and Ad Age columnist Bob Garfield provides policymakers and advocates with an arsenal of new material that support the passage of digital age consumer protection laws. In his Ad Age essay [“Your Data With Destiny.” sub required], Garfield has this incredibly revealing–and disturbing–quote from behavioral targeting industry leader Dave Morgan (Tacoda) [our emphasis]:
“Now we have the ability to automate serendipity,” says Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, the behavioral-marketing firm sold to AOL in 2007 for a reported $275 million. “Consumers may know things they think they want, but they don’t know for sure what they might want.”
Garfield writes that “In 2006 Tacoda did a project for Panasonic in which it scrutinized the online behavior of millions of internet users — not a sample of 1,200 subjects to project a result against the whole population within a statistical margin of error; this was actual millions. Then it broke down that population’s surfing behavior according to 400-some criteria: media choices, last site visited, search terms, etc. It then ranked all of those behaviors according to correlation with flat-screen-TV purchase…“We no longer have to rely on old cultural prophecies as to who is the right consumer for the right message,” Morgan says. “It no longer has to be microsample-based [Ã la Nielsen or Simmons]. We now have [total-population] data, and that changes everything. With [those] data, you can know essentially everything. You can find out all the things that are nonintuitive or counterintuitive that are excellent predictors. … There’s a lot of power in that.”
There’s more in the piece, including what eBay is doing. As the annual Advertising Week fest begins in New York, we hope the leaders of the ad industry will take time to reflect on what they are creating. You cannot have a largely invisible system which tracks and analyzes our online and interactive behaviors and relationships, and then engages in all manner of stealth efforts to get individuals (including adolescents and kids) to act, think or feel in some desired way. Such a system requires rules which make the transaction entirely transparent and controlled by the individual. The ad industry must show some responsibility here.
We know the folks at Viacom and CBS know a great deal about digital marketing. The new overhaul of the CNET site, which CBS acquired last June, includes behavioral targeting in the redesign. CNET now–“[B]ased on what users are searching for, manufacturers will be able to connect with them… within the comparison shopping process. In addition to its traditional focus on tech products, CNET is adding appliance and kitchen gadget reviews, covering such products as built-in ovens, dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators, small appliances, stoves and ranges, and washers and dryers.”
Of course, we hardly don’t know any media outlet that isn’t using some form of behavioral targeting and other interactive marketing techniques. But what’s generally missing is real disclosure to users and their ability to determine what is collected and by what methods. And while online advertising is the key business model for the future of online publishing, the rush to embrace of behavioral targeting by news organizations raises a number of disturbing questions. It’s an issue we will cover.
source: CNET.com undergoes major revamp. btobonline.com. August 28, 2008
Watch this online video of Randall Rothenberg speaking before a June Federated Media Publishing event. In Mr. Rothenberg’s worldview, demon critics of advertising (such as myself) are deliberately trying to undermine democratic digital media. This would be absurd, if it wasn’t so sad. Mr. Rothenberg is using scare tactics to whip up his members into a frenzy-all so they can fight off laws and regulations designed to provide consumers real control over their data and information. Luckily, Mr. Rothenberg will be on the losing side of this battle to protect consumers in the digital era. Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic understand how the digital marketing ecosystem raises serious concerns about privacy and consumer welfare. We have to say we are disappointed in John Battelle, the CEO of Federated (who wrote a very good book entitled The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture). Mr. Battelle should know that the online marketing system requires a series of safeguards which protects citizens and consumers. There is a balance to be struck here. Online advertisers have unleashed some of the most powerful tools designed to track, analyze, and target individuals–whether on social networks, or watching broadband video, or using mobile devices. We have never said there shouldn’t be advertising. We understand the important role it must play, including for the underwriting of online content. But the online ad system should not be designed and controlled solely by ad networks, online publishers, trade groups and online ad lobbying groups. It must be structured in a way which promotes as much freedom for individuals.
The stories on a judge’s order for Google to turn-over to Viacom data on YouTube users have largely ignored a key issue: why is Google–and almost every other leading broadband video provider tracking and analyzing our online viewing habits. It’s because–like with broadband generally and with television–the goal is to know exactly what we are viewing in order to better target us with advertising. In the case of broadband video, whether it is YouTube, Hulu, or Joost, for example, it’s about tracking our viewing so well we can be micro-targeted.
Google sees huge profits for YouTube doing this. They now call YouTube a “next-generation advertising platform,” something we think reflects how they really view the service. Google is pitching the branding and sellling of YouTube to advertisers. Google is now tracking YouTube views as it promotes to advertisers a scheme to take advantage of the “viral” marketing capabilities of YouTube. Finally, it’s also useful to consider how Google’s recently acquired DoubleClick also has a product tracking and analyzing broadband video. Users and policymakers should expect their online viewing will be private–and not to be spied upon. Whether by Viacom, the government, or Google itself.
Mr. Rothenberg, head of the trade group that represents interactive marketers, is in a tizzy because privacy, consumer advocates, and some lawmakers in the U.S. and EU advocate public policies that would empower citizens and consumers to have greater control over their data. Groups such as my CDD also want online marketers to inform users about the range and intent of data collection taking place. Anyone who has studied the online ad industry and is following it should be disturbed by many of its developments and directions.
There needs to be a serious and honest debate about all this–and rules enacted to protect the public. As more people realize the dimensions of the interactive marketing system and its implications, there will be a raising protest. We expect that when the EU’s Article 29 Working Party, made up of data privacy commissioners, issues its report on behavioral targeting, it will be an informed and thoughtful discussion of what must be done. Given the henny-penny approach Mr. Rothenberg has embraced to fight off consumer protection safeguards, we assume he will ask Congress to formally break diplomatic relations with `old’ Europe!
This is a serious issue, with ramifications affecting consumer welfare in a number of areas, including information they receive about pharmaceutical products, personal finances (such as mortgages) and with our children and adolescents. As I’ve said, we recognize the vital importance of advertising for the online medium. But it must be transparent, respect privacy, and operate fairly. The global digital ecosystem must evolve, as much as possible, in the most open and democratic manner.
Randall Rothenberg of the Interactive Advertising Bureau lobbying group wrote a commentary where he made a number of misleading statements. He incorrectly characterized the work of Professor Joseph Turow. Prof. Turow, a leading academic expert of the online marketing industry, is on the faculty of the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. Here is Professor Turow’s response:
“In one sentence, Mr Rothenberg manages to make two fundamental misrepresentations. What I really say on page 2 of my 2006 book Niche Envy (where the quote originates) explicitly relates to marketers use of surveillance technologies without consumers understanding: “Over the long haul, however, this intersection of large selling organizations and new surveillance technologies seems sure to encourage a particularly corrosive form of personal and social tension.” Nor do I anywhere lament the passage of the three network universe. For example, I explicitly state in Breaking Up (on page 199, for example) that three network era had its own forms of social exclusions and state that “that “the proper response to this hypersegmentation of America is not to urge a return to the mass-market world of the 1960s and 1970s.” My conclusion: when I see Mr Rothenberg quote someone I will be sure to check the source to make sure the passage has not been wrenched from its context. I should add, too, that I accept the need that digital interactive media have for target marketing and database marketing. But there are many creative ways to meld data analytics and their implementation with openness and public engagement. I fear that Mr Rothenberg”s policies and writings indicate he will lead this important organization in directions that are misguided for marketers and for society.
Last week, a coalition of child advocacy, health and media groups asked the FTC to develop safeguards for digital marketing that would protect adolescent privacy online. This will be a major focus of the Center for Digital Democracy over the next year or so, building on our work during the 1990â€™s which led to the passage of the Childrenâ€™s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA helps protect the privacy of children under 13 years of age. Adolescents are now a principal focus of the online data collection and targeting system, a process which raises many ethical and health-related issues. We call on responsible online ad industry leaders to work with us to enact meaningful policies that protect adolescent privacy on websites, social networks, online gaming, etc. We are pleased that some major online ad companies have privately said to us that they recognize there is a problem. We will work with them and other responsible digital marketers. Policymakers from both congress and the FTC also recognize adolescent privacy is an important concern. It is a bi-partisan one as well (Senator John McCain was the co-sponsor of COPPA). The time to develop a meaningful framework that respects the autonomy of adolescents, but protects their privacy, is now
Former journalist and now online ad industry lobbyist Randall Rothenberg, in a BusinessWeek commentary, suggests that the call for privacy rules ensuring individuals have control over their data will undermine the Internet. You would think a Madison Ave. trade group could craft more creative PR copy. But the online ad industry’s position is indefensible, since they built a system based on the harvesting of our information without believing they would need to get our permission first. The IAB board should realize it has embarked on a very dangerous campaign here that will undermine credibility for many marketers. Here’s my response submitted to BusinessWeek:
Mr. Rothenberg, as head of the interactive ad trade group lobbying against the call from consumer groups for the government to protect personal privacy online, fails to address the central question regarding online advertising. The call for regulation is designed to ensure individuals control their data while on the Internet or using their mobile phonesâ€”not companies such as Google, Microsoft, and AOL. Public interest groups are not opposed to interactive marketing: indeed, we recognize it as a key source of funds for online publishing. But Mr. Rothenbergâ€™s members have created a commercial surveillance system that rivals the NSAâ€”tracking and analyzing our every move while on the Internet, all so we can be encouraged to behave favorably to some marketing message. Responsible ad industry leaders will seriously address the privacy threats created by the interactive marketing apparatusâ€”and not hide behind self-serving claims that unless our privacy is lost, we wonâ€™t have a robust digital medium.
The IAB has embraced a `circle the data collection and micro-targeting digital wagon’s’ with its new privacy principles. Instead of embracing a policy that truly protects consumer privacy, IAB members are trying to hide behind the same failed approach they have led to governmental inquiries in the US and the EU. The IAB should have adopted rules so that no data can be collected without full disclosure and prior consent of the consumer, as well as other fair information collection principles. The IAB’s proposed new PR campaign to promote the role of interactive marketing will undoubtedly by slick–but won’t be honest. That’s why my CDD will keep telling the FTC, the EU and the public about what really goes on with data collection and digital marketing. These slightly refurbished fox-watching-the-data-hen-house-privacy principles won’t provide any substantive protections for consumers. The failure of the IAB to acknowledge key issues related to sensitive data–including children, teens, financial (think subprime mortgage-related) and health–is a glaring failure of the group’s ability to do what is required to protect consumer privacy.
The IAB is trying to help its members dodge the digital privacy data bullet. But privacy advocates and officials concerned about consumer welfare in the digital age will eventually force the needed changes. What’s sad is that instead of playing a leadership role in the privacy debate, the IAB is attempting to stick with the past. Don’t they realize that change is coming?