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BizReport : Advertising : April 07, 2009


Is behavioral targeting really anonymous?

Practically since behavioral targeting became a norm setting in online marketing proponents and opponents have argued the anonymous factor. Companies and platforms offering behavioral targeting insist that there is no privacy risk in tracking anonymous users' online actions; privacy advocates disagree. And now two university researchers have found that this private data may not be so private.

by Kristina Knight

Two University of Texas at Austin professors have released their study called "De-anonymizing Social Networks". In the paper, the two state that they 'unmasked' the identities of one in three Twitter users who also had Flickr accounts; the researchers say they used anonymous information - similar to the information collected by behavioral targeting - to do this.

In the report, the authors write that anonymity is not the same as privacy, especially in the social networking world. Since so many consumers are now social networkers it makes sense that more research should be done into just how anonymous and private behavioral targeting platforms are and what can be done to improve the privacy assumptions and risks of consumers online.

Although this report is not a red light against behavioral targeting, it is food for thought, especially for privacy advocates. With the risks already abounding on in the Internet, from Phishing to actual Identity Theft, it makes sense that consumers should expect a certain level of privacy - and security - from the websites they visit and the ads presented to them. Although behavioral targeting is not meant to impinge on people's privacy, if there is a chance that personal information could be pulled from the data collected, behavioral targeting firms should have plans in place to protect that data and the consumer's private information.

Tags: behavioral targeting, online marketing, social networks.










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