Did you ever dance to the Hokey Pokey song when you were a child? You know, “you put your left foot in you put your left foot out, etc.” It seems that this could be the case for advertisers when it comes to behavioral targeting. Due to some bills on Capitol Hill, mainly the “do not track” bill, some advertisers are getting ahead of the game to attempt to make sure their ads are compliant.
Capitol Hill wants to give consumers the opportunity to opt-out of behavioral targeting; mainly, requiring behavioral targeting ads to have a “Do Not Track mechanism.” Chrysler along with others have started displaying ads that gives consumer the options to opt-out. It’s kind of like the fine print at the bottom of a contract. Unless someone looks for it they may not be aware that it is actually there. However, it is there and it gives the consumer the option to opt-out.
In this particular ad by Chrysler, the opt-out option is in the top right hand corner of the display ad. Once a consumer clicks on that icon, a drop down menu appears. It explains to the consumer that the ad is being served to them because it matched their interests and is based on their “browsing activity.”
The consumer receives three options. 1. More information and opt-out options. 2. What is interest-based advertising? (aka as behavioral targeting) 3. Chrysler values their privacy. These options lead to more detailed summary pages that explain the options that consumers have and their various outcomes.
If the consumer clicks on option 1 they are taken to a page that shows a list of different online companies that may be collecting behavioral data on them. Not all of the companies give them the option to opt-out, but for the ones who do; they can just click a box to be opted-out. This doesn’t mean that they won’t see Chrysler ads anymore. However, their browsing data won’t be used to determine which ads they will see while browsing online.
If the consumer selects door number 2 they are taken to a website that shows them a demo of how interest-based (behavioral targeting) works. After viewing the demo the consumer has the option to opt-out and is even given an explanation of what will happen once they opt-out.
Last, but not least, door number 3 takes the consumer to a lengthy privacy document by Chrysler. This document explains what Chrysler does with their data and how they value the consumer’s privacy, etc.
All in all, the opt-out option is an attempt by advertisers to get ahead of possible regulation by the government. If the bill does pass, Chrysler will be ahead of the game while other advertisers will have to make adjustments to their behavioral targeting ads and create an opt-out option for them. For now, behavioral targeting ads don’t have to disclose their tracking capability to consumers, but that could change in the future.
Privacy groups have had their sights set on behavioral targeting (also known as remarketing) since the idea of tracking web surfer’s activity first surfaced. The Center for Digital Democracy, a leading privacy advocacy group, has been a vocal player in protecting consumer’s privacy online. As far back as November 2007, the group has penned letters to the FCC asking for the federal agency to act on behavioral targeting in the interest of online privacy. While it remains to be seen if the FCC will ever act to prohibit behavioral targeting, many companies who employ the strategy experience solid results; but how long will that last?
As recently as January 24th of this year, Google introduced a downloadable extension to their Chrome browser that allows its users to “opt out of personalized advertising”. In Google’s own words, “Keep My Opt-Outs is an extension for users who aren’t comfortable with personalization of the ads they see on the web. It’s a one-step, persistent opt-out of personalized advertising and related data tracking performed by companies adopting the industry privacy standards for online advertising.” Coincidentally (or not), Mozilla announced a similar option for their Firefox browser the day before Google’s announcement. Mozilla’s new browser feature is best described by Alex Fowler, the Global Privacy and Public Policy Leader at Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox. He states on his blog, “As the first of many steps, we are proposing a feature that allows users to set a browser preference that will broadcast their desire to opt-out of third party, advertising-based tracking by transmitting a Do Not Track HTTP header with every click or page view in Firefox. When the feature is enabled and users turn it on, web sites will be told by Firefox that a user would like to opt-out of OBA. We believe the header-based approach has the potential to be better for the web in the long run because it is a clearer and more universal opt-out mechanism than cookies or blacklists.” Not to be outdone, Microsoft’s newest version of Internet Explorer “IE9”, which was released yesterday, provides users the ability to create a list of sites that they do not want tracking them.
Between the main three browsers (Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 56%, Mozilla’s Firefox 23%, and Google Chrome 11%) 90% of all web surfers now have greater control over how they are tracked online. If you are actively running behavioral targeting or remarketing campaigns, you should keep a close eye on your results to see if these new browser settings impact the return on your ad spend.
The FTC has been trying to implement “Do Not Track” rules that would enable Internet users to opt out of being followed around the Web. These new rules are being praised by privacy advocates who are weary that websites have too much valuable information that could possibly be misused or even sold to insurance companies, banks, employers, etc. to make important application or approval decisions. Do Not Track opponents are hoping the FTC will maintain the current self-regulatory method. On January 31, the FTC will vote on whether to request a congressional mandate for websites to honor the Do Not Track requests from users.
So what does Do Not Track mean to advertisers? If the FTC passes Do Not Track, online advertisers will have to change current practices of using behavioral targeting and pixel tracking. It will also allow Internet users to choose an option on their Web browser to notify every webpage they visit not to track them.
As it stands, advertisers can track users through a tracking pixel or cookie, that gets downloaded to each visitor’s browser. Then the advertiser can target visitors on other web sites with display banners or videos. Behavioral targeting allows advertisers to create groups of users that are more inclined to be interested in an advertiser’s product or service. For example, an advertiser can target females 18-34 for beauty products instead of blindly showing ads to all visitors on a Web page.
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Do Not Track rules would severely hurt the $300 billion online advertising industry. Display ads rely heavily on Internet tracking and behavioral targeting and marketers have seen great lifts in click-through and conversion rates due to these newly implemented tools.
The online advertising industry does not “watch over” individual’s Web browsing. Advertisers use Web browsing data to make educated decisions as to where and when advertisements should be seen, which plausibly speaking benefits web users as well.