Tales of Behavioral Targeting: Merging Offline Databases with Online User Tracking

The folks at the Federal Trade Commission better toughen up its proposed privacy principles. And Congress and the new Obama Administration, of course, will need to step in. That’s because the online marketing behavioral targeting industry is rushing to push the data collection from unprotected consumer digital envelope. Take, for example, Datran Media. In an interview, a representative explains “Datran’s unique advantage is in the fact that we have figured out a way to aggregate more audience data than anyone else…We derive our behavioral and lifestyle data from real online and offline requests for information or transactions, and obtain our household-level demographics and interests from the most informative and accurate direct marketing databases available. We feel that the combination is unprecedented and unbeatable in the marketplace.”

On Datran’s website it explains to potential clients that its Aperture product “is the first and only advertising solution to leverage the power of offline demographic data – at the household level – with online display advertising to help identify, reach and define your ideal customers – no matter where they are on the Web.” Describing a “smarter way” to reach consumers, the company explains that:

  • Aperture is the only advertising solution that uses household demographic information to precisely target banner ads online, and report on the ads’ audience AND responders.
  • Aperture defines your customers by WHO they are and WHAT they do.
  • Retargeting capabilities bring customers back to your site with an added level of insight into who they are.
  • Leveraging 100 million + demographic profiles combined with proprietary transaction-based behavioral intelligence, Aperture is capable of delivering greater consumer insights than ever before.

Aperture provides deep insights into the effectiveness and reach of your campaigns – by the view and click – so you can make the best business, media mix and creative decisions for your brand.”

The company’s targeting capabilities are also explained:

“Using Datran Media’s proprietary 100 million+ household level profiles, Aperture can layer any of following criteria to define your ideal customer and target your ads directly to them anywhere they go on the web.

  • Household
  • Gender
  • Household Size
  • Number of Adults
  • Number of Children Present
  • Renter/Owner
  • Length of Residence
  • Marital Status

The company can also “layer” in such targeting parameters as one’s neighborhood [“Number of Adults, Median Number of Children Present, Median Annual Income,” etc.] as well as consumer “behavior” [“auto, insurance, personal finance, dating and romance,” etc.].

As we said to the FTC and the industry, just because technology permits you to collect data and target individuals, doesn’t mean one should do it without the complete prior informed consent of users. Industry leaders need to own up to what they are doing, and support the kind of privacy protections a digital democracy requires.

Outside DoJ Expert Litvak on Why Google/Yahoo Deal was Opposed: “Google had a monopoly”

From American Lawyer Daily’s interview with Sandy Litvak (the outside expert DoJ asked to review the now scuttled Google/Yahoo search ad combine). Excerpt: “Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. called off their joint advertising agreement just three hours before the Department of Justice planned to file antitrust charges to block the pact, according to the lawyer who would have been lead counsel for the government. Sanford “Sandy” Litvack left Hogan & Hartson in September to consult for the department’s antitrust division on a possible court challenge to the Web giants’ agreement. The companies abandoned the deal in November after the Justice Department informed them it would seek to block the deal. “We were going to file the complaint at a certain time during the day,” says Litvack, who rejoins Hogan & Hartson today. “We told them we were going to file the complaint at that time of day. Three hours before, they told us they were abandoning the agreement.”…The never-filed government complaint would have charged that the agreement violated Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, Litvack tells the Am Law Daily in one of his first interviews since the companies canned the venture. Section 1 bans agreements that restrain trade unreasonably. Section 2 makes it unlawful for a company to monopolize or attempt to monopolize trade.

“It would have ended up also alleging that Google had a monopoly and that [the advertising pact] would have furthered their monopoly,” Litvack says.

source: Hogan’s Litvack Discusses Google/Yahoo. Nat Raymond. TheAmLaw Daily. Dec. 2, 2008

AT&T and a leader of its funded Privacy Forum Raises Questions About the Need for Safeguards

Those busy data collection bees at AT&T–including its funded Future of Privacy Forum co-head–appear to be working to undermine the growing movement supporting consumer privacy protection. According to a news report, a meeting was held last week at the University of Oklahoma on privacy issues. Forum co-director Christopher Wolf, whose law firm represents AT&T, is reported as placing behavioral targeting in a favorable light. Instead of calling for legislation, Wolf suggested that companies should create videos and other technical approaches to serve as supplemental privacy policies.

Also speaking at the event was Keith Epstein, “AT&T’s chief public policy and regulatory compliance counsel.” Here are the last two grafs of the story: There is no legislation pending in Washington regarding online privacy, Epstein said. A legislative solution if it did exist, he said, would be inflexible.

Epstein favored guidelines instead, and said the FTC should be issuing industry standards by the fall of next year.

AT&T’s stance on privacy legislation to protect U.S. consumers is troubling. It will have its deep-packet inspection, all-seeing ISP broadband clout, to monitor and then target each subscriber. AT&T should make it clear it supports legislation which provides real consumer protection (opt-in, transparency, control, extra protections on health, financial and youth data). Where is the privacy leadership at AT&T?

30,000 media jobs lost in ’08–Congress should hold hearings and pass new laws to address the Journalism crisis

Ad Age reports that “the media industries have shed more than 30,000 jobs in 2008, according to an Ad Age analysis of Department of Labor employment statistics and news reports.” More than 200,000 media jobs have been lost since 2000, the story notes.

But we all know that the mainstream news industry has been in trouble for decades, with mega mergers and various financial schemes saddling them with debt. Now the downturn in the economy, with ads on the decline, as well as the fundamental shift to digital news sources, is helping further erode the support system for serious journalism. Congress should hold hearings on why journalism is in crisis, investigating who is responsible, and what can be done about it. Among the possibilities: New laws permitting employee buy-outs of newspapers (real ones, not the phony kind engineered by Trib’s Sam Zell); changes in the tax and corporate governance rules so public service comes before shareholder profits; and regulations that reward non-profit and philanthropic news media ownership. There should also be funds from the economic stimulus designed to foster diverse ownership of news outlets. If we can bail-out Wall Street and automakers, we should certainly do something for a profession essential to our democracy.

source: “Media Companies Cull 30,000 in Fight for Their Future.” Michael Learmouth. Ad Age. December 8, 2008

Google Expanding Video “Metrics” for Brands and Ad Agencies to help “Monetize” YouTube

From the UK’s New Media Age [excerpt]: “Google is the latest company to put its weight behind developing video ad metrics as part of its increased push to monetise its video properties, particularly YouTube.

nma can reveal the search giant is developing a planning tool for video ads to help brands and agencies understand before a campaign launches how effective it will be.

Likewise, it has also completed a project with research and consulting firm OTX that included looking at how to define consumer engagement withYouTube video ads…Additionally, it has ramped up work with its in-house rich-media specialist Tangozebra to develop new ad formats alongside external agencies and clients, while it’s also funding joint research projects with agencies to understand how web users are consuming online video.

The latter will focus on developing ad metrics for agencies and brands to better understand the impact of online video and rich-media ads, on top of analytics already provided by Google Insight. Jonathan Gillespie, Google head of media solutions and YouTube in the UK, said the research has a particular leaning towards planning tools.

“The whole point of doing this research is to fill a gap in our requirements,” he said. “The internet as a whole has been very good at delivering metrics after the effect. However, the front end and planning are things the internet hasn’t been particularly brilliant at.

“Therefore we’re developing a planning tool that will determine how we can best target audiences for advertisers on video while maintaining a good consumer experience,” Gillespie added.

source: “Google develops video ad planning tool to give insight.” Will Cooper. NMA. Nov. 6, 2008 [sub. required].

Google’s “Policy Fellowships”–Self-Serving Efforts to Help Ward Off Privacy and Online Marketing Protections?

Google has selected 15 organizations for its 2009 “Google Policy Fellowship.” Fellows are funded by Google and will work on “Internet and technology policy” issues over the summer. Take a look at some of the groups it selected and what they say the projects will be (and their positions on Internet issues). And then ask–is Google working to help undermine the public interest in communications policy? Think online privacy and interactive marketing as you read these following excerpts from a number of these groups:

“The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public interest organization dedicated to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government. We believe that individuals are best helped not by government intervention, but by making their own choices in a free marketplace…Electronic privacy: CEI seeks to reframe the online privacy debate in terms of the potential benefits to consumers of greater information sharing, transparency, and marketing. Fellows will explore competing privacy policies and how they are evolving as the public grows more aware of privacy risks. This research will also encompass privacy-enhancing technologies that empower consumers to safeguard personal data on an individualized basis.”

“The Progress & Freedom Foundation (PFF) is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy… Online Advertising & Privacy Policy Issues: PFF defends online advertising as the lifeblood of online content and services, particularly for the “long tail,” and emphasizes a layered approach to privacy protection, including technological self-help, user education, industry self-regulation, and enforcement of existing laws, as a less restrictive—and generally more effective—alternative to increased regulation.”

“The Technology Policy Institute is a think tank that focuses on the economics of innovation, technological change, and related regulation in the United States and around the world… Privacy and data security: benefits and costs to consumers of online information flows, and the effects of alternative privacy policies on consumers and the development of the Internet.”

“The Cato Institute’s research on telecommunications and information policy advances the Institute’s vision of free minds and free markets within the information policy, information technology, and telecommunications sectors of the American economy…Information Policy: Examining how increased data sensing, storage, transfer, processing, and use affect human values like privacy, fairness and Due Process, personal security, and seclusion. Articulating complex technological, social, and legal issues in ordinary language. Promoting the policies that protect these human values consistent with a free society and maximal human liberty.”

Google is also funding fellowships at other groups, including the partially Google funded Center for Democracy and Technology. The CDT connected Internet Education Foundation (which helps run the Congressional Internet Caucus, where Google is a corporate Advisory member) also will house a Google Fellow. There are a few public interest groups hosting Fellows that have an independent track record, including Media Access Project, EFF, and Public Knowledge. But awarding Fellowships to groups which will help it fight off responsible privacy and online marketing safeguards provides another insight into Google’s own political agenda.