Hispanics are the largest and youngest minority group in the United States, and you can bet that major advertisers want to reach them. Actually, an agency called LatinWorks did make that bet, opening its doors in 1998 with a focus on “cultural branding” and creative work that spoke to a Hispanic audience. The bet has
Maybe you’ve noticed this, or maybe you’ve worked on a campaign that uses this tactic: You visit a website to look at shoes, a car, or whatever, then move on to some other website – say Facebook or the New York Times – and an ad for the site or the product you just visited appears somewhere on the page. This is called “behavioral advertising” or “behavioral retargeting.” While some consumers like it, others find it creepy. That “creepiness” feeds into broader concerns about privacy – companies selling consumers data or the NSA scooping up phone records.
Ghostery is a company that’s attempting to insert a level of trust and comfort into behavioral retargeting by giving consumers control over how and when their online and mobile behavior is tracked by advertisers. Ghostery’s free software lets them see all of the entities that are tracking their web activity and choose which ones they want to allow to follow them. Ghostery makes its money by tracking the trackers (not the consumers) and selling that data back to online marketers who want to measure the effectiveness of their efforts.
The Way I See It
- Privacy issues were big news in 2013 – Edward Snowden, the NSA, the Target and Nieman Marcus data breaches. Privacy was top of mind, and Dictionary.com made “privacy” its word of the year. With Heartbleed and other issues, “privacy” might be the word of the year for 2014 as well. All of this anxiety around privacy winds up getting applied to the legitimate attempts of brands and advertisers to provide a quality online experience to consumers.
- The regulatory issues are all over the place, especially for companies that do business internationally. Privacy laws in the European Union are very strict, and seem like they’re about to become even stricter. In the United States, regulation varies from state to state. When it comes to behavioral retargeting, advertisers have tried to get ahead of the game through self-regulation. The Digital Advertisers Alliance recently published a new set of guidelines that includes how behavioral targeting should (and should not) be implemented on mobile devices.
- Privacy is a brand issue. Brand is built on trust, and brands that are perceived as being deceitful or simply just careless with customer data are going to pay a huge price.
The Way the Industry Sees It
On June 10, Davis & Gilbert and Ghostery co-presented a Digital Media & Privacy Seminar, after which I sat down with Todd Ruback, Chief Privacy Officer at Ghostery, to talk about privacy, transparency, and the future of behavioral retargeting.
Take the consumer’s temperature for me. What is the typical consumer worried about related to privacy? And how well-informed is that worry?
Thanks for having me here today, Ron. To level-set, I don’t like the term “consumer.” Not to be nit-picky, but a consumer is someone who buys something and you don’t have to buy something to have your privacy at risk. We’re talking about people. What we see and hear at Ghostery is that people, even if they can’t fully articulate their privacy concerns, feel that as technology has become more embedded into every facet of our lives, society has transformed into a surveillance society. Over 30 million people have downloaded our free privacy tool, Ghostery, which allows them to see who’s tracking them on any given website and to control that tracking. We see an absolute explosion in downloads, over 100% every six months. People care and they are arming themselves with information so they can take control over their online experience. As the Internet has become a pillar of our lives, there is a salient concern that it is a gateway to privacy risk. People are well informed generally, through both the excellent efforts of organizations like the DAA and through self-education.
What do consumers understand or misunderstand related to privacy and behavior retargeting?
People understand that the Internet is free because advertising subsidizes websites. Study after study show that people are cognizant of the quid pro quo that is the present day engagement model of the Internet. Maybe folks don’t exactly know what a “cookie” is, but they know technology is used to track them as they traverse the Internet and is used as a means to ultimately market them something that is related to their interests. That’s both kind of cool and a little creepy. At Ghostery what we are hearing is that people aren’t objecting to this tracking, rather they are objecting to it being hidden. The answer to the real question, which is “what do people want,” is easy. People want transparency. They want openness and honesty from the company that they are choosing to do business with. When I go to Amazon to buy a book I’m cool with given it my credit card info, email and address, so I can buy my book. That’s the trade. But, I’m the one who dictates whether or not I’m okay with it. After all, I came to your site. So the trade in a free Internet model is I will get free Internet and be able to go from site to site, but you get to anonymously track me in order to serve me an advertisement that will be relevant to me. You want to track me, fine, but tell me about it first so I can decide if I’m okay with that. It’s all about empowering the individual with information so they can make the decision that is best for their selves.