Now that the crazy-ness of the holiday’s has settled down, I thought it would be valuable to take a few minutes to share some of the thoughts and projections that the DSA team has for 2011. As Media Planner’s and Buyer’s, we get asked for our opinions about the Online Privacy Rules that seem to be profiled in the news.
To summarize, in the US the government has recently been exploring the idea of limiting the information that online content networks can collect to shelter individuals surfing habits. The “Do Not Track” legislation will govern methods of taking information from users online and using that information to target advertisements to them. If the US does adopt this privacy standard, then Canada is likely to follow on the heels of our southern neighbours. If this happens, then likely the way that we are able to behaviourally target ads will evolve. Currently we rely on tracking pixels that are left behind from websites. These pixels do not contain personal information, but do provide information on search habits, and may include information from sites that the consumer has visited. On a recent business trip Jacquie, DSA Project Manager, was taking a look at USA today and noticed an article on this very thing, with quotes from concerned citizens saying things like, “There is always the danger that you’re going to be judged or somehow pigeonholed by the site you are looking at, I don’t think I like that very much.”
The challenge with this is that the loudest group of people that are supporting these privacy regulations are the people who thing that sites are tracking the “individual” as opposed to tracking the “surfing habits”. People don’t know that Behavioural Targeting isn’t going to say “Shannon went to this page (oh I’m jealous of her going on a trip) and Jacquie went to this page (look at her style). It is anonymous tracking that expires when the pixel expires. It gets returned to the publisher as “User A went to the travel page (lets serve him or her a travel ad) and User B went to the fashion page (lets serve him or her an ad with a pair of fancy shoes).”
Sam, DSA Media Director, had a great approach on this. Sam feels that behavioural targeting is an ad service. She enjoys an enhanced online experience without having to disclose information. “My privacy isn’t being violated, my online habits are being analysed by a computer server. I am going to be served ads anyways; at least Behavioural Targeting increases the chances of them being useful ones!”
How does all of this affect our business though? Better yet, how does it affect your business? If online publishers are not able to behaviourally target ads based on a person’s surfing behaviour, then they’ll have to find another way to refine targeting for campaigns. Alexander, DSA Online Media Specialist, had some great insight. He said “As much as we use BT, we also use site indexing to identify where we should be advertising, much as we would through other mediums. We can still identify sites that target groups, so we don’t lose the ability to reach those users, only the ability to reach them when they aren’t on the targeted sites. In this sense, the loss of BT would force us to rely more on comScore data, which as all online media planners know has some major limitations in Canada. On the plus side, I would hope that a significant movement back to relying on comScore may actually instigate better data from comScore, even if that only means regional data becoming available (hint, hint, comScore).”
Alexander goes on to say, “In my mind, the main arguments against BT mostly stem from misconceptions about BT: What is this ‘personal information’ that is being collected, and does visiting a website constitute giving up a measure of privacy? You may be on your computer but you are also on somebody else’s website. If we can answer these questions about BT, then the only real issue remaining is placing cookies – which is an issue that merits discussion.”
I have to hand it to Alexander, he has a great way of approaching things, and I really think that he touches on a very valid point. I’ve heard a lot of industry experts talking about the death of behavioral targeting, but I really think that it will be more of an evolution, and it may even strengthen the way that people are targeted, ideally without pixels. Our team appears to be split between supporting and not supporting the decision to further regulate online privacy. Either way, we are prepared for it to happen, and are excited to see how the conversation evolves.