Friday, April 11, 2008

Somebody's watching me...

...and you...and apparently it makes us uncomfortable. Or at least some of us.

Harris Interactive released a poll concerning US internet users concern with websites that customize content based on user profiles, including the use of behavior-based advertising.

Principle researcher Dr. ALan Westing of Columbia University observed:

"Websites pursuing customized or behavioral marketing maintain that the benefits to online users that advertising revenues make possible – such as free emails or free searches and potential lessening of irrelevant ads – should persuade most online users that this is a good tradeoff. Though our question flagged this position, 59 percent of current online users clearly do not accept it."

And although the oldest users seemed least comfortable with content targetting, younger age groups were markedly more comfortable when the privacy and security policies were visible and explicit.

So what?

Consumers have shown their willingness to provide personal information for loyalty programs, rebates and the like in exchange for a clearly articulated return of value (e.g., discounts, coupons, preference satisfaction). Online advertisers (and the online properties that rely on them) attempting to engage users via content and behavior targetting would seem to be best served by the common courtesies of transparency and permission.

Gratuitous headline musical reference


  1. The FTC is reacting to those concerns. In December 2007 they released proposed online behavioral advertising privacy principles which addressed such areas as transparency, data security, data retention and consumer control. Comment period on the principles was to close in February, 2008 but was extended to last Friday. I haven't seen any official response posted on the matter yet.

    It'll be interesting to see what changes, if any, are made current Affiliate Marketing Rule.

  2. Links to the FTC press release and the principles PDF here

    and here

  3. Amid the responses to the proposed guidelines, on Friday the FTC received the request from child advocacy and medical groups to urge Internet companies not to track the online activities of minors.

    See link:,1,4507173.story