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BizReport : Advertising archives : May 06, 2011

What Do Not Track may mean for advertisers

Privacy advocates continue to fight advertising targeting methods, even if the push isn't daily headline fodder. Data breaches, behavioral targeting methods and the potential for loss of privacy have many, both advertisers and consumers, afraid of what is happening on the Internet. Many also wonder if do not track legislation is the answer.

by Kristina Knight

J. Brooke Aker, ADmantX Chief Marketing Officer, offers his thoughts on what proposed legislation might mean for online advertisers.

Kristina: Why is there such a fury over "do-not-track"?

Aker: For several reasons. One is that we hear about data security breaches frequently. For example, a lost laptop with employee data or a criminal who hacks into systems to steal credit cards. It makes us feel like the internet is not a very safe place. When consumers hear about behavioral tracking they tend to lump all these into the same bucket. And of course then call their representative in Congress to complain.

Another reason is there is little or no disclosure. The word "creepy" comes into the conversation when consumer awareness reaches a tipping point even though behavioral tracking has been going on for years. It doesn't help that cell phone makers suddenly reveal they collect data on your whereabouts either. So it leaves consumers with a nagging feeling whispering to themselves "What else haven't they told me?"

Kristina: There are several proposed laws to deal with "do-not-track" and consumer privacy. How will these shake out?

Aker: If you look carefully at the legislation, look at the pre-emptive moves by the ad industry and browser makers and know what privacy advocates want, I think you begin to see the outlines of a deal most can live with. I could make the case that industry will gladly accept a universal and easier to implement Opt-Out provision than we now have in exchange for killing Opt-In or a blanket "do-not-track" and preserving the protections you find in the Kerry-McCain bill. Legislators would find enough in this for consumers and business to be happy. Privacy advocates would probably be OK with it since a stronger Opt-Out is awfully close to an Opt-In. The online ad Industry would likely sign onto to anything that takes the default position of continued tracking until being told not to track by consumers - than the other way around.

There is one caveat for industry however. Most Opt-Out schemes are voluntary in terms of industry compliance. So if a couple of bad actors spoil it for the rest you can be sure privacy advocates will use this as the basis to a new challenge and demand a legal, universal Opt-In. In other words industry should be careful what it wishes for.

Kristina: If legislated Opt-In came now or later what would the consequences for the ad and publishing industries be?

Aker: Contrary to what many believe I don't see the sky falling. I say this because there are good alternatives to behavioral tracking and geo-locating in order to help match ads to content. If these methods were completely barred we would still have the content to rely on. Today we use contextual targeting to analyze content. But that is really a fancy way of saying keywords are used to understand what the content is about. Keywords are notoriously thin and brittle as a matching method. Even then a recent study from Yahoo / InnerScope suggested contextual targeting improved consumer engagements with ads by 15%.

At ADmantX we take the same idea in a new direction and depth with semantic analysis of the page. In this way we can experience content the same way as the reader does - not just by listing the people, places and things on the page. But much more than that; what is the story about thematically, what emotions the reader experiences in consuming the story, how it motivates them, and how it creates buyer intention. This is a rich set of data on which to match ads - particularly for brand advertisers. The engagement lift using this method is more on the order of 70%. None of this invades privacy.

Tags: ADmantX, do not track, J. Brooke Aker, online advertising, online targeting, targeted advertising

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