Online Privacy Could Mean Obsolete Ads

While some might feel that behavioral targeting within ads is a little big brother, there’s no denying how effective it might be. Perhaps it’s because I work in the industry, but if I’m going to be served an ad on a website anyway, I’m much more interested in getting something that I’ll actually care about.

I read earlier this week that the FTC is considering online privacy measures, citing concerns about the data that’s collected being put to bad use, or falling into evil hands.

I’m not terribly concerned that someone knows I’m interested in camcorders with hard drives…would you be? I suppose if you’ve recently been searching for things like “How to Decontaminate a Crime Scene” there might be reason for paranoia, but my recent purchase doesn’t arouse any sense of “they might be out to get me.” It tends to make me say, “Ooh! Look at that ad. What IS that product?” and then I click on it to learn more.

The fact is this: there will always be advertising. It’s been around for centuries, it’s just never been quite this sophisticated. As a consumer, which do you prefer? You can be barraged with meaningless messages, or shown something that you are possibly interested in. Why the Internet gets nailed down into such tight parameters is a frustrating double standard. If you look at the Super Bowl, you learn a lot about that audience, too: they like beer, scantily clad women, sports paraphernalia and cars. Maybe that kind of data isn’t being captured, but if it could be, you’d give a whole new meaning to the competition for Super Bowl ad space.

The other large concern of the document is the vague language that it uses, with phrases like “companies should retain data only as long as is necessary to fulfill a legitimate business need.” Who decides what’s legitimate? Not only that, who decides how long its legitimacy lives?

As an online advertiser, truly the aim is not to manipulate user data. It’s to streamline costs and make the efforts more relevant. As a consumer, I want what’s relevant, and I’m willing to offer up some information about myself that isn’t harmful to improve my experience.