In an effort to help people better understand what consumer targeting is and what it could become, I share some useful info for the average consumer. (Consumers in this context are Internet users.)
Previously, I shared my views and even laid out an action plan regarding online advertising, specifically, consumer targeting. Consider checking them out: Consumer ADvocacy: Opting-Out Just Isn’t Good Enough and Consumer Advocacy: Ad Industry Bans Sensitive Demographics.
Consumer Targeting describes the practice of tailoring content, products or services for the Web surfer. It’s no question that by doing this, advertising publishers can demand a higher-margin sale from an advertiser. Sounds fairly innocent at a higher level, but this is just the tip of the iceberg for privacy invasions.
Many content publishers have become flaccid when it comes to content; in lieu of publishing hot content that attracts consumers around the clock, publishers have decided to deploy consumer targeting for their ads that users see on many Web sites. The question you should be asking is, “why?”
Many advertising publishers (let’s call them Ad Networks, since big-time publishers display ads on a wide array of Web sites that consumers use. As you sign up for services or browse content on these sites, Ad Networks collect little bits and pieces about you. This is known as consumer demographics.
Consumer demographics can vary from gender, income, race, nationality, political affiliation, adult interests, sexuality, physical health problems, mental disorders, including regional targeting. Now, I understand the need for Web analytics (browser agents, referrer, installed plug-ins, time spent on a page, page views and the ability to maintain ‘unique’ viewer data — I’ll go into that later.
Web users can expect ads targeted to their demographic data as a result of this. Perhaps you recently searched for “migraine headaches,” you might be shown ads for pain relievers. Maybe you just checked out some information on a Dodge Charger, well you can be certain that you will be shown ads about cars throughout your online session. More critically, lets say you’re a victim of identity theft, publishers think it’s appropriate to show you ads for Credit Scoring services, instead of non-profit resources.
You’re probably thinking, “So, they will show me ads that interest me, right?” Yes, but what if you wanted to browse the Web somewhat privately? The last thing you want is to be bombarded with ads for what you’re doing online. My main concern with Consumer Targeting, is that it will open the floodgates for more privacy invasions and bending of rules in the future.
Here is a real life scenario of what would will happen if advertisers are allowed to develop consumer profiles, “in your best interest”:
This is consumer targeting — and it’s legal — for now.
In this example, a customer calls a pizza business, and the business tailored the order to his needs. Is this what you want online advertisers to do to you? Nothing stops online advertisers from integrating their data with other data aggregation sources like Lexis Nexis, InfoUSA and Experian.
In the time where consumers are caught into a hand-to-hand combat with advertising networks, where is the line drawn? The line between “tailored content” and aggressive targeting? Further, what steps can consumers take today to safeguard their demographic profiles?
Web programmers (no, not the ones who live for HTML everyday), but the ones who write and publish content on virtually every Web site you visit need metrics. It’s totally understandable so they know what Web browser their users use, what areas their visitors access most as well as how people got there. This information is aggregated and can’t be associated with any one person. I am completely content with this form of demographic logging since it absolutely can’t be used to target users dynamically.
However, when someone is discriminated against because of their online profile — not what their looking at, but what the company already knows about you — this is where I draw the line (and you should, too).
Targeted advertising should be targeted for the content, not the visitor. So if I’m selling lawn mowers, my audience are lawn mower-interested viewers. Not golfers, landscapers or people who make between 30 and 40 thousand annual income.
If you can’t discriminate about it in the workplace, I don’t want to be discriminated against on the Web.
As Web users, all you can do is protect yourself. The way you do this is not load ads. To avoid loading ads, consider surfing with Firefox and Adblock Plus. Further, unsubscribe from any unwanted advertising that you receive and review all privacy policies from entities that you register with. Opt-out from unwanted telephone solicitations by visiting DoNotCall.gov and remove yourself from credit card direct mail advertising. Then when asked whether you support a “Do Not Track” type of list, support it with conviction that you want to maintain your online privacy no matter how irrelevant ads get.