Is behavioral targeting a privacy threat?

Share this content:

Regulators and industry groups have been looking carefully at the regulation behind the practice of tracking consumer behavior online to better ensure consumers' privacy.

Rip Warendorf
SVP of worldwide sales, Zango
Nearly 20 years of sales and digital media experience

Consumers want, and indeed expect and deserve, a free, easy-to-use, meaningful Internet experience. And while I don't believe that online consumers feel threatened by behav­ioral targeting, its practitioners could go a long way toward removing any remaining misconceptions by providing additional opportunities for consumer choice, consent and control.

The truth is that effective ad targeting, whether behavioral, contextual or other, benefits all of the Internet's constituents, including consumers. The Web enables consumers to receive highly relevant, targeted ads, instead of scattershot results delivered by other media. Rele­vant ads provide a service to consumers and real ROI to advertisers.

To allay any privacy concerns, behavioral targeters would do well to use plain language disclosure to help the consumer understand exactly what is on and happening on their computer, and presenting consumers with infor­mation and choice in an easily under­stood disclosure describing the value proposition is the first step. Providing as much information as possible is next. For example, marketers can provide a full end user licensing agreement, uninstall instructions, links to more information and a privacy policy.

Consumers already have filtering options built into their browsers. So present them with the full value propo­sition and let them choose.

Andrew Smith
Partner in Morrison & Foerster's Washing­ton, DC office
Former FACT Act program manager at the FTC

Government regulation around behavioral targeting is still in its early stages. The Federal Trade Commission proposed a number of self-regulatory principles in December 2007 which aim to address some of the consumer discomfort that has arisen from behavioral tracking and other online activities that may put consumer information at risk.

The FTC has a broad authority to regulate deceptive practices as well as unfairness. While deception is pretty easy to understand, unfairness is a much broader concept and the one that might be applied to online behavioral targeting, but only under certain condi­tions. Apractice can be ruled unfair if it injures consumers, is unavoidable by consumers and if the cost is not outweighed by benefit.

For marketers, the key issue is whether or not there is a real measur­able injury to consumers based on the information that is collected. Site visitation behavior, which is not linked to a name or address, but only an IP address, would be difficult to use to harm a consumer. In fact, in these cases it's used to try to more appropriately target the future buyer as a benefit to the consumer.

Certainly the collection of data needs to be monitored, particularly if they can be linked to sensitive information. It's important for marketers to be very clear on safeguarding identifiable data.

DMNews' decision
The benefits of behavioral targeting are clear: Relevant advertising for consumers and more data to segment for online marketers. However, as consumers become more accustomed to opt-in marketing, they expect more control over where and how their data is collected and used. Market­ers should be aware of industry guidelines and clear on safety measures.

Have your say
E-mail your view to


Next Article in Digital Marketing

Sign up to our newsletters

Company of the Week

PAN Communications is an award-winning integrated marketing and public relations agency for B2B technology and healthcare brands. PAN's data-driven approach allows the firm to specialize in public relations, social media, content and influencer marketing, and data and analytics. PAN partners with brands to create unique, integrated campaigns that captivate audiences and drive measurable results. PAN services clients out of the firm's four offices: Boston, San Francisco, New York City and Orlando.

Find out more here »

Career Center

Check out hundreds of exciting professional opportunities available on DMN's Career Center.  
Explore careers in digital marketing, sales, eCommerce, marketing communications, IT, data strategies, and much more. And don't forget to update your resume so employers can contact you privately about job opportunities.

>>Click Here

Relive the 2017 Marketing Hall of Femme

Click the image above