Behavioural Targeting and Privacy

Thu 9 July 2009 15:45, Barry Adams

Behavioural Targeting and Privacy

Some news from across the pond: a group of American advertisement associations has published a set of self-regulation principles to "protect consumer privacy in ad-supported interactive media". These principles boil down to seven guidelines.

The guidelines are Education, Transparence, Consumer Control, Data Security, Material Changes, Sensitive Data, and Accountability. The guidelines are summarised in the IAB press release on their website, or you can read the full document here.

Not everyone thinks these guidelines are sufficiently strict. In a Wired Epicenter blog post, Ryan Singel claims this attempt at self-regulation is so flawed as to amount to an invitation for the government to step in and slap legislation on the industry. According to the guidelines many types of personal and sensitive information can still be gathered, such as financial information and searches on sensitive subjects, and this information can be (ab)used by advertisers and other parties.

Behavioural targeting is an increasingly common and valuable aspect of online advertising, as we want to deliver ads that are relevant to our consumers. The blanket-approach of online marketing is being replaced by targeted ads, which have proved to be much more cost-effective. For behavioural targeting to work we need to gather data on customers, from their online behaviour to their lifestyle choices. Where exactly this data goes from public to private is a contentious issue.

Whether this attempt at self-regulation will prove to be sufficient to ward off legislation for the online advertising industry remains to be seen. Lately few governments have been willing to choose the side of consumer protection when it comes to privacy, instead opting to erode personal privacy laws in the name of security. But self-regulation has also proved to be a flawed approach, as the financial crisis has so aptly demonstrated, so it'll be interesting to see how this issue will develop.

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