Internet marketers, Web publishers, privacy groups eye House BT hearings

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Catalogers take on the hill.
Catalogers take on the hill.

Privacy groups still believe that the only way to protect consumers is to create legislation. "Self regulation is only as good as the regulatory rules that provide clear direction for industry oversight," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD). “It is time for Congress to enact sensible rules that protect consumers around data collection.”

When this issue first surfaced in November 2007, privacy groups petitioned the FTC to take action.  Now, Congress is involved. Last April, House members first met to discuss the possibility of introducing federal privacy legislation. One of the ideas that has been discussed is an opt-in strategy in which consumers could elect to allow their behavior to be tracked.

“This is very rare, and it would be very different from any other privacy legal strategy that we have in this country,” said Tanya Forsheit, an attorney at Proskauer Rose. “The default in the US has always been 'yes, you can use data, unless you are told not to.' It remains to be seen what kind of proposed legislation will come out of this and whether it will go though.”

Despite the continued controversy around behavioral targeting, vendors don't appear to be shying away from it. At the recent Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Boston, a couple of exhibitors were showcasing new solutions with a behavioral targeting tie-in.

Amadesa, a Web site testing and personalization software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, launched an automated behavioral targeting capability for the Amadesa Customer Experience Suite. The platform uses an algorithm that analyzes hundreds of anonymous user data points in real time to learn which campaign promotion, category image or other content element is most compelling and automatically matches the best content to each visitor to drive engagement. Home fitness online retailer Smooth Fitness saw a nearly 20% increase in average order value using behavioral targeting, according to Amadesa.

The behavioral targeting Amadesa is engaged in is based around one specific Web site, as opposed to what happens with most advertising networks, which produce cookies that follow a user from site to site.

Personalizing a Web site [via behavioral targeting] helps an individual with an intent to find what they are looking for and helps the site owner deliver more content that is relevant to the individual, said Pete Olson, VP of product management at Amadesa.

Also at the Internet Retailer show, ClearSight Interactive, a behavioral targeting service provider, launched ClearTrigger, which enables retailers to identify and make direct e-mail contact with unregistered users and previously unknown online consumers who have demonstrated an interest in a product or service.

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