Online industry reaction to the Wall Street Journal privacy series, and generally, illustrate a basic disconnect in how they view the privacy concerns raised by digital profiling, tracking and targeting.Â Leading online marketers frequently claim that behavioral targeting and related data-focused techniques are actually good for the consumer.Â The problem, they argue, is that consumers lack basic information about the process.Â Presumably, they believe, if we really understood how it worked, we would be relieved.Â In truth, of course, the opposite is true.Â The more one knows about the processes underlying what the online ad industry claims is a digital marketing “ecosystem,” the more a consumer and citizen should be alarmed.
In the UK, EU and in the U.S., companies like Google and Microsoft are working together on PR campaigns to convince both the public and policymakers all is well with behavioral profiling for marketing.Â One Google executive in the UK recently told New Media Age that “The use of behavioural targeting is growing and is a massive benefit for advertisers wishing to serve more relevant ads. It also helps pay for content and services. But there is user confusion about how it works…Lack of understanding is the biggest problem facing behavioural targeting in the UK. Thereâ€™s a knowledge gap between those who work in the industry and are familiar with terms such as cookies, remarketing and aggregated data, and users who search the web for information and goods. Itâ€™s our job, along with the rest of industry, to inform those users about how online advertising works and the choices they have.”Â
But in reality, the industry–including Google–has failed to be candid with consumers and policymakers about all the data collection practices that are deployed–such as by Google subsidiaries Doubleclick, Admob, & Teracent, for example.
Microsoft is also very bullish about behavioral targeting–especially since it’s in a global digital fight with Google to deliver data-enriched ad targeting for the biggest brands.Â In the same New Media Age issue [22 July 2010], Zuzanna Gierlinska, head of Microsoft Media Network at Microsoft Advertising explains that:Â â€œWeâ€™re not saying you should use targeting – whether thatâ€™s behavioural targeting or re-messaging – just to push conversion.Â But it can have a strong brand uplift. People come into a channel, see a nice creative with high-impact imagery and then go away. But that message stays with them.”Â The article goes on to explain that: Itâ€™s this ability to talk to people on an ongoing basis, and give them a better experience, thatâ€™s the key to why combining re-messaging and behavioural targeting with a standard brand buy works, argues Gierlinska. For example, with re-messaging, users are already a warm lead, while behavioural targeting tightens the focus on users who are demonstrating an interest… This positive experience benefits both conversion and brand uplift among the target audience. â€œTargeting benefits everyone,â€ Gierlinska says. â€œIt benefits the publisher because itâ€™s not wasting impressions or serving ads to just anyone. It benefits the advertiser because it has efficiencies with its media buy. But itâ€™s also really beneficial to the users because theyâ€™re getting relevant messaging thatâ€™s timely and ideally helping their productivity in what theyâ€™re doing online, rather than just being served random messages.â€
Much of how the industry addresses the behavioral targeting and its related data mining application are rationalizations [maybe all their therapists are on vacation or Freudians!Â Just kidding].Â But it reflects a failure by industry leaders to recognize a serious problem that affects the public.Â That’s the same kind of `it’s all good for us, regardless of what we do’ behavior that led to the recent–and ongoing–global financial collapse.